New addiction treatment options offer reasons for hope, skepticism

By Matt Kuhrt

New treatment options provide additional avenues for opioid addicts to get clean, but some have begun to question the trajectory and duration of the paths offered by some popular clinics, according to an NPR story.

The advent of drugs that replace the effects of heroin and prescription narcotics, particularly buprenorphine (frequently known by the brand names Subutex or Suboxone), fill a vital need for many patients as a primary step toward recovery. Their appeal to addicts sits in a sensitive ethical area, however, since the drugs are themselves mild narcotics.

"No one comes truly seeking treatment," John Fisher, a counselor who runs Addiction Recovery Center of East Tennessee, told NPR. "They're looking for legal access to drugs."

Clinics such as Fisher's are somewhere between a support group and a full-blown medical rehabilitation facility. This means they occupy a very different financial space in which they don't tie up overhead on administrative headaches like licensing or dealing with insurance companies. Instead, they charge patients directly for the program and seek to wean them off the replacement drugs over time.

Critics point to the amount of time these treatments can take and the amount of money patients wind up paying over that time. In a sense, the clinics become de facto drug dealers themselves, albeit legal ones. By operating outside the insurance and licensing regulatory spaces, it's a lot harder to tell the difference between a legitimate clinic and a moneymaking scam.

The development of a secondary market for buprenorphine pills complicates matters further, as some patients wind up selling some portion of their prescription on the street in order to make enough money to continue with their treatments, according to a reformed addict interviewed for the story.

To learn more:
- read the NPR story