Something I haven’t yet come across:

Well, i’ve been clean with the help of Suboxone for 14 months now. Throughout my treatment I’d been getting tongue blisters and ulcers at least two at a time. I’ve probably had them six to eight different times in this 14 month period. I realized something wasn’t right, and started investigating, trying to figure out what the problem was. I watched the foods I ate and the things I drank. Nothing seemed to work; they just kept coming back. So, the only thing I could think of was the Suboxone. 

Toxic Sweetener?

I read the pamphlet that comes with the medication. The artificial sweetener in Suboxone (Acesulfame K sweetener) is what I am allergic to. I have been allergic to artificial sweeteners my entire life. I had been taking a medicine I’m allergic to for 14 months! I admit, i should have done more research from the start. But I was so desperate for relief that i would have done anything to get rid of withdrawal. I also checked the ingredients in Subutex. It does not contain Acesulfame K sweetener.

I went to my next doctor appt. and told my doctor my findings. My doctor was a complete jerk. When I brought up pretty much the only option I had and asked ‘could you switch me to Subutex?’  He said he usually only uses Suboxone but because of my allergy there wasn’t any other choice.  I said ‘will you write the prescription so that i can get the generic just in case Subutex isn’t covered?’  He said, ‘nah I really don’t want you taking generic.’ I said, ‘do you mind going to check and see if you can find out whether Subutex is covered?’ he leaves for a few minutes, comes back and says ‘nope it doesn’t cover it.’ Then he says, ‘ I’ll go ahead and write it so that you can get generic.’ He was very angry. I can only guess it was because the generic is made by another company.

I could take this discussion in any of several different directions.  But instead of getting angry tonight at doctors who may have hostility for addicts (or perhaps addicts who perceive something else as hostility–  I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened), let’s look at the issue of allergy to the artificial sweetener in Suboxone, and the issue of prescribing brand vs. generic and Suboxone vs. Subutex.  For people who are interested, I took the discussion in an entirely different direction on the forum, where I took Reckitt-Benckiser to task for their limited number of slots in their patient assistance program.

Some background:  Brand Suboxone and Subutex have been the only bupe game in town until last fall, when a generic version of Subutex appeared on the scene.  Access to the medication has been a constant frustration since then, as distribution gets backed up and the price continues to rise– now almost double the initial price of about $2.50 per 8 mg tablet.  People in Wisconsin can generally find the generic by ordering it ahead of time at Walgreens– a company I am loathe to refer people to, but that at least has been able to get the medication.  That is if one of their pharmacists doesn’t decide to tar and feather you and post you on the wall along with those other darn drug addicts!

The generic version of Suboxone entnered the market about a month ago thanks to Teva pharmaceuticals, a large generic company that SHOULD be able to meet demand, but that so far does not have tablets on the shelves in Wisconsin.  The hope of many people, of course, is that the advent of generics will bring down the price of buprenorphine.  That SHOULD happen, provided that doctors don’t fall for whatever anti-generic nonsense is thrown their way by the sales force for Reckitt-Benckiser.

This is the point, by the way, where a company’s ‘true colors’ show.  Reckitt-Benckiser makes a big deal of talking about how they are NOT about the money– they are all about HELPING ADDICTS, and really don’t hardly notice that their company profits continue to surprise to the upside, pushing the stock price higher.  And I’m sure it is completely by accident that the price of Suboxone is so high, and that the high price has gone higher by about 50% over the past two years, at a time when everything else in the world is getting cheaper.  I figure that somebody accidentally moved a decimal point,  just like that crazy day in the stock market a month ago.  They probably THINK that Suboxone sells for $0.60 per tablet, not $6.00!
I’m sorry for sounding annoyed.  My anger stems from my suspicion that RB ISN’T just about saving lives. 

Don’t get me wrong– I love capitalism.  But only when ruled by honesty, especially in the healthcare sector.  I have heard and read comments from the sales reps from Reckitt-Benckiser that suggest a concerted plan to tarnish competitors in a way not done by other companies about other generics.  I do not know what happened to their plan for a listerine-strip type of product, individually packaged, but they clearly planned to attack their own formulation just as soon as they got approval for the new product.  But so far, the dissolving SL tablet in a multi-dose vial appears to be just fine!  Watch for that to change.

Reckitt-Benckiser is also playing up the diversion-potential of Subutex, even though they know that the vast majority of diversion cases consist of addicts self-treating their addiction, taking the tablet by the usual sublingual route– NOT injecting it.  But it protects the sales of Suboxone if the doctors and pharmacists (and DEA) are under the impression that prescribing Subutex is taking a big risk.  Is Subutex ever injected?  Of course.  But only a small fraction of diverted Subutex ends up used that way.  For the most part, Suboxone and Subutex are the same medication– except until recently one had a generic and the other did not.  I even suspect that some RB reps deliberately allow confusion over how Suboxone works– i.e. not explaining that Subutex contains EVERYTHING necessary to treat opioid dependence that is present in Suboxone.  Some docs think that the naloxone in Suboxone adds to the opioid blockade (it does not, when taken sublingual) or reduces cravings (it does not).

I did some reading on the artificial sweetener in Suboxone, and the writer is on the right track– and I hope he is prescribed the medication that he needs, rather than suffer with mouth sores.

I encourage physicians to take all factors into account as they take on this nasty illness.  On one hand, I resist the complaint that ‘I can’t get help because Suboxone is too expensive’ because active using is always much more costly– even before considering the costs to one’s occupation or to one’s relationships.  But physicians have long-relied on generics to increase availability of life-saving medications that otherwise would be beyond reach for many people– particularly during a nasty recession.

Makers of generic buprenorphine, please continue your good work, and good luck to the new products entering the market– for example Butrans, which was approved a few days ago, and Probuphine, a long-term injectable form of buprenorphine that I suspect will be a great help for the final stage of buprenorphine remission treatment, i.e. stopping treatment with buprenorphine.  Let’s hope the FDA recognizes the demand for that delivery system.


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