(CNN)America’s opioid epidemic continues: The latest numbers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, released Friday, show that one in four drug overdoses in 2015 wasrelated to heroin. In 1999, just 6% of all overdoses were related to the drug.
When looking at overdoses overall, opioid-related deaths represented the majority. In 2015, overdoses involving opioids represented 73% of all overdose deaths, a significant jump from 57% in 2010. Opioids include heroin as well as drugs with a similar chemical structure, such as oxycodone and illicit synthetics like fentanyl.
When Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act last year, it also dedicated $1 billion toward fighting the epidemic, including expanding buprenorphine treatment, a medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependency.
Unlike methadone, which can be administered only in specific settings, buprenorphine — commonly used under the brand name Suboxone — can be provided outside a clinical setting, which can make it more easily accessible.
But while medical-assisted treatment is considered the gold standard, as with any treatment, it isn’t 100% effective.
A study published this week in the journal Addiction found that 43% of all buprenorphine users filled an opioid prescription during treatment and that another 67% filled an opioid prescription after treatment. However, buprenorphine can also be prescribed to deal with chronic pain, and the study wasn’t able to determine which users were trying to treat their dependency versus to treat pain.
Medically assisted treatment
“The bottom line: It’s no surprise that some people receiving buprenorphine are also receiving prescriptions of other opioids, but we were surprised by the number of patients receiving buprenorphine and other opioids,” said study author Dr. Caleb Alexander. Alexander is Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Alexander pointed out that the study did not aim to assess the effectiveness of buprenorphine but rather “raises (the) question about how we can improve the quality and continuity of this treatment. ”
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The study looked at 38,096 buprenorphine users between January 2010 and July 2012, with an average treatment length of 55 days.
“When prescribed appropriately,” Kolodny said, “more than 75% of patients do very well” on buprenorphine. He noted that success from buprenorphine treatment was based on long-term use of at least a year.
In addition, since 2012, awareness of the opioid epidemic has been visibly increased. Last year, the CDC issued new guidelines to physicians on prescribing opioids, including recommending against using narcotics as a first-line therapy for chronic pain.
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