It’s been longer than usual since my last post. That’s because I spent the last five days in Boca Raton, Florida, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. I usually go to meetings of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, since I’ve been a member of that organization for seven or eight years. I’ve always thought of ASAM as more “medically -oriented” and AAAP as more “mentally-oriented” but this week I found that they’re similar.
Anyway, I went to some great meetings and lectures.
The most intriguing was “Buprenorphine 201.” In this meeting, we had a lecturer, but she functioned more as a moderator for many of the physicians as we exchanged ideas about how we prescribe buprenorphine for our addicted patients.
One of the more interesting topics was if, when, and how to taper buprenorphine. Should physicians encourage patients who are doing well on buprenorphine to taper off of it at some point? All the research data shows high relapse rates for patients who taper off of it. But many patients insist on tapering, due to the stigma, cost, and inconvenience of being on this medication, so what’s the best way to do this?
I heard several new ideas, like doing dose plateaus. This means that once you taper 25% of the total dose, stay on the new dose for a few months to make sure the patient has completely stabilized before pushing the dose down again. Then stay at that dose for months, and so on. Another doctor said to use clonidine to treat early withdrawal symptoms. Another doctor suggested using benztropine (Cogentin) to manage some of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. This medication is usually given to help symptoms of Parkinson’s patients, and to help manage the side effects of anti-psychotic drugs.
The two best ideas I heard were: 1-Taper the dose down to as low as possible, in the range of 2mg, and stay at that dose for a prolonged time, maybe months. The doctor and patient can decide to taper further after a very prolonged time. 2-Use the 2mg Suboxone film, and cut it to gradually lower the dose.
We all agreed there is little research to guide us to decide when taper is appropriate, and how to do the taper. Much of what we decide depends on the characteristics of the patient and their desires.
Several other things came out of this meeting. The most worrisome is the degree to which buprenorphine, brand name Suboxone, is being diverted to the black market. This is making the DEA rather cranky, and other law enforcement types are beginning to make noises, saying that Suboxone should be re-classified as a Schedule II controlled substance because of the frequency it’s seen on the black market. If that happens, it would be the end of the Suboxone program. The DATA 2000 law that made it permissible to treat opioid addiction in a doctor’s office says the drug must be scheduled III or IV. A schedule II drug wouldn’t be covered by DATA 2000.
So let me say loud and clear: If you are buying Suboxone, selling Suboxone, or giving Suboxone to someone other than the person to whom it was prescribed… KNOCK IT OFF!!!
You could ruin a good program that offers opioid addicts an option that was illegal in this country until 2002.
Let’s do all we can to keep this medication available for the addicts who want recovery.