I received the following e-mail a couple days ago:
I had been on Suboxone for 9 years. I was put on it the week it was approved by FDA. I found your posts in a blog. I was looking for a class action suit against this terrible drug. That man who said he was enjoying a Suboxone was right. I was on it almost 9 years and did get high and stay high all day, just like methadone. It causes depression and brain damage. I have been off it for 2 months now and am very sick with depression, panic attacks, and have not been able to even take care of myself. Please, if people want to get off drugs help them and send to treatment and AA NA.
Those of you who have read this blog for a while may remember the posts ‘back in the old days’—a few years ago—when I would get these kinds of messages often. Thankfully, I rarely get them nowadays, although every now and then someone stops by SuboxForum.com intent on harassing people taking buprenorphine.
I get your complaint Nancy, I really do—but I don’t agree with your thought process, or your conclusions. First of all, buprenorphine has been around for over 30 years, and has never been associated with ‘brain damage.’ The high doses of buprenorphine used for opioid dependence have been in around for 15-20 years overall, 8 years in the US. Several million prescriptions for high-dose buprenorphine have been written—without evidence for any significant harmful effects from buprenorphine.
Your description of how you felt while taking the medication are not at all consistent with the descriptions I’ve heard from the several hundred people I’ve treated over the past 5 years; people almost always report feeling nothing from the medication after being on it for a week or two. Every now and then a person will say that he/she notices opioid effects after each dose, but the sensations are always subtle, and people have to focus to tell if they are really feeling them. Frankly, given that the feelings usually come well before the 45-minute absorption time of the medication, I think that they are often imagined, or created by the mind, as a ‘placebo effect.’
Preliminary studies suggest a role for buprenorphine for treating refractory depression. I would not recommend that use for the medication in people who are not already addicted to opioids- but the findings of mood elevation in some people runs counter to your suggestion that the drug causes depression.
Buprenorphine is different from methadone in a number of ways, the most critical being the mu receptor profile, where buprenorphine acts as a partial agonist, and methadone acts as an agonist. This difference is responsible for the unique actions of buprenorphine, compared to methadone and other agonists.
But my primary disagreement with you is because you completely disregard the conditions that you had before starting buprenorphine. I assume that you were dependent on opioids, as that is why the vast majority of people take buprenorphine. And opioid dependence is not a benign condition. In fact, opioid dependence is often fatal, particularly over a span of ten years. When you blame your depression and anxiety on buprenorphine and Suboxone, where do you get the image that you use as a comparison for your current condition?
For example, if you didn’t take buprenorphine, what are you assuming would have happened? The success rates for ‘treatment’ without buprenorphine are very low—well below 10%. And many young people who have taken opioids for more than a year or so can list several former confidants who have died from opioids. In other words– you seem to be assuming that you would have been fine without Suboxone, when the odds are more in favor of you having significant problems from your addiction—and maybe death.
You may have scraped up $5K – $50K to enter treatment and been in the lucky few percent who ‘got’ recovery; in that case, the odds would have been high that you would relapse in the next few years. As for depression and panic, those are common symptoms in anyone with longstanding opioid dependence—are you just assuming that you would have been fine?
You may have gotten arrested for doctor shopping, shoplifting, or theft from your best friend’s medicine cabinet. You may have gotten disgusted with yourself and committed suicide. You may have lost everyone close to you, and ended up living on the street. We don’t know what might have happened—but I remember the days before buprenorphine was available, and remember the revolving door of treatment centers and NA meetings. Heck, those revolving doors are still in use by the people who will buy into your comments!
This is where my anger used to really well up… every person who you convince with your story — fueled by your lack of recognition of the condition you were in and your lack of appreciation for the substance that saved your life—every one of those persons will have a higher risk of mortality, thanks to you.
And—sorry for my French—that still pisses me off!
I received the following e-mail a couple days ago: