Many Addiction Treatment Clients Continuing to Take Prescription Opioids

Addiction is a chronic disease with a risk of relapse. It’s not uncommon for people who go to treatment to relapse more than once. The results of a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University may provide some answers about why staying clean and sober is so challenging for recovering addicts.

Scope of the Addiction Treatment Study

The study examined records of 38,096 patients from 11 states in the period from January 2010-July 2012. The researchers found that 43 percent of people who were given buprenorphine, a medication that is commonly used to treat addiction, also filled at least one prescription for opioids.

The researchers discovered that buprenorphine is also used as a pain medication. They decided to analyze a subset of people who had received a form of the drug called Suboxone, used only to treat opioid addiction cravings. When the researchers looked at the results for these 20,124 people, 27 percent of them had used another opioid drug while in treatment; 54 percent used one after treatment had ended.

The study also revealed that the average length of time that the people in recovery were given buprenorphine was only 55 days. This is a much shorter time than experts recommend is necessary to treat a substance abuse issue. Once the clients stopped receiving the anti-addiction medication, two-thirds of those in the study started filling prescriptions for opioids.

“Doctor-shopping” Not Likely the Issue

Caleb Alexander, the co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Awareness at the University’s School of Public Health, indicated that clients could be receiving medication-assisted treatment with either buprenorphine or methadone from one doctor or clinic and be seeing another doctor as their primary care physician. If the addict is brought into the Emergency Room, they will be seen by another doctor. Even though many states have databases to track prescription medication purchases, doctors may be unaware of what other physicians are prescribing for a particular patient.

The lack of communication and efficiency of the system are to blame more often than patients attempting to go “doctor shopping” to get drugs, Alexander points out. Many doctors either are not registered for the prescription databases or don’t use them at all. Even those who are registered for them don’t use them regularly.

Medication-assisted treatment is one of the most common ways to treat addiction. The study has brought up some important questions about the quality of medical care clients are given while in treatment.

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