Interview with a Suboxone Doctor

The following is an interview with one of the first prescribers of Suboxone in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. George Hall is an experienced physician, board certified in both Family Practice and Addiction Medicine, who has worked in both fields for many years and helped countless addicts and their families:

JB: What have your experiences been, treating opioid addiction with buprenorphine, or Suboxone?

GH:   It’s been pretty incredible from day one…….watching people, and the difference it’s made in their lives, when they come on buprenorphine.

JB: Of the patients you’ve started on buprenorphine, what percentage would you say improved on it?

GH: Ninety-plus percent, I would think. You’ll have the occasional patient who doesn’t come back, and an occasional patient who can’t afford it, but there’s not many that stand out in my mind through the years [who have done poorly with buprenorphine].

JB: Can you describe how you decide to do a detoxification with a patient on buprenorphine, versus keeping the patients on it for longer, and what your experiences have been?

GH: The people I detox on buprenorphine are the ones who have to come off of it in a short period of time. They say, “I want off by one month or two months or three,” and generally those people actually change their mind over a period of time, as they see their life getting better.

So, most of the time, it’s patient-driven. As you know, the data for opiate dependency shows that this population just doesn’t seem to do very well. Perhaps that’s the reason I have such a positive feeling about buprenorphine. We’ve used it for maintenance, since day one, in a lot of patients, and those are the people whose lives you see continue to change over a long period of time.

JB: Are there any problems that you’ve seen with buprenorphine?

GH: I think the problem with buprenorphine is similar to the problem with methadone …we see these people getting extremely well. They don’t get euphoric, but they’re not ill any longer. They’re able to function, they’re able to sleep. It’s a long-acting medication that allows them to have a normal day. When they’re out on the street or they’re buying from the internet or they’re going to multiple doctors, they just don’t have normal days.

So is that a problem? Only if you define any sort of recovery as abstinence-based. But, if you’re defining recovery as improvement in quality of life, not using other substances, able to hold jobs, able to have families and interact with families, treat their depression, then these people do extremely well.

But…I think the problem for me is…..once they begin to do so well, it’s just like with anything else, whether it’s an alcoholic or a cocaine addict or a marijuana addict that’s been in recovery for a period of time. The acuity of the disease drops in the patient’s mind, and it seems like they think, “I’m cured,” and “I’m just normal now so I don’t need to do other things. I don’t need to go to NA meetings. I don’t need counseling. Why do you keep pushing me to do this, because I haven’t used in two years? I’m doing great.”  Whether this is the disease talking to them or it’s just part of life…

And that’s what I see with any addiction…the disease itself says you don’t have a disease, whether it’s alcohol dependency or opiate dependency, and perhaps we see that even more with opiate dependency. We see that on maintenance therapy.

JB: If you had an opiate addicted patient who had unlimited money, time, willingness, and resources, what treatment would you recommend first? If they were addicted only to opiates?

GH: When I think about that question, I think about gold standards of treatment. The people who have the highest recovery rates are professionals. Physicians in North Carolina have over a ninety percent recovery rate at five years. It’s not because they’re physicians, it’s not because they’re brilliant, it’s because they’re made to do a lot of stuff to help convince them they have an illness, and to treat it as an illness on an ongoing basis. They are made to do at least twenty-eight days, to three months, to six months of inpatient treatment, most of them from the beginning. If we had an IV opiate-addicted anesthesiologist, [he would get] probably at least twelve weeks of inpatient treatment, monitoring, and perhaps even a job change. So [addicted doctors] do extremely well. Not that they have unlimited funds, but if they want to remain a physician, they have to do certain things.

So that kind of brings me around to what you’re asking. If money were no object, I would think fairly long term – two to four months of inpatient treatment, with a slow detox with something such as buprenorphine, which is a very soft detox compared to some of the ones we’ve used in the past – followed up by intensive group therapy,  and then getting them involved in 12-step recovery programs. And after we bring them out of inpatient treatment, [they would get] some sort of follow up over a period of one to two years if we are looking at unlimited funds, and the willingness to do that. Which isn’t practical in the general population.

JB: Because of the expense and time?

GH: Because of the expense and the time we have.

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One response to this post.

  1. Great post! If only expenses and time were not factors for the general population!

    Reply

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