Health department warns about risk of misusing buprenorphine

by | January 11, 2018 6:28 am

Local and state health officials warn those who take buprenorphine to use caution as misusing this prescription drug could result in an overdose death, according to recent data collected in Tennessee. (Photo Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Health)

White County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health have issued warnings about the misuse of a drug that is prescribed to treat substance-use disorders after a rising number of overdoses have been reported.

According to health officials, the prescription drug buprenorphine, which is an important part of treatment for many individuals with substance-use disorders, when paired with therapy and support, can help save lives. However, Tennessee Department of Health data have shown an increase in deaths associated with buprenorphine when the drug is used with another respiratory depressant.

As organizations and individuals across Tennessee work to reduce the impact of the epidemic of drug overdoses in the region, White County Health Department, along with Tennessee Department of Health, is raising awareness of risks associated with buprenorphine when combined with other drugs.

Tennessee Department of Health has found a total of 67 deaths associated with buprenorphine occurred in 2016. Most people had taken multiple drugs prior to death.

However, the latest analysis of drug overdose death data in Tennessee shows abuse of buprenorphine alone can sometimes lead to death. State data reported that 10 Tennesseans only had buprenorphine present when they died from overdose, in 2016.

“These tragic and preventable deaths remind us buprenorphine is a powerful opioid drug which can be dangerous when combined with other drugs like alcohol or benzodiazepines like valium or xanax,” stated Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner. “Buprenorphine can only legitimately be used for treatment of a substance-use disorder in Tennessee.”

Buprenorphine is used in medication-assisted treatment to help people reduce or quit their use of heroin or other opiates such as pain relievers like morphine. Buprenorphine reduces cravings for other opiates, helping people regain stability in their lives.

Medications such as buprenorphine, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, provide a whole-patient approach to treatment of opioid dependency. When taken in this way, buprenorphine is safe and effective.

“Medication-assisted therapy, the collaboration of personal work, commitment to therapy, professional and peer counseling, and support, combined with the medication, can be an effective and critical treatment for people suffering with a substance use disorder,” said Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Marie Williams. “We urge anyone struggling with substance abuse and addiction issues to seek treatment.”

“Buprenorphine can be prescribed or dispensed in doctors’ offices, which significantly increases access to treatment for addiction, unlike methadone treatment which must be performed in a clinic,” said Tennessee’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Reagan. “Buprenorphine is an important option for treating substance abuse disorders and has been shown to help decrease use of illicit opioid drugs. But like any drug, it can increase risk of overdose when taken with other addictive drugs.”

Like opioids, buprenorphine produces effects such as euphoria, and, as a result, it can be misused. However, the opioid-like effects of buprenorphine are weaker than those of drugs such as heroin and methadone.

People should use the following precautions when taking buprenorphine.

-Do not take other medications without first consulting your doctor

– Do not use illegal drugs, drink alcohol or take sedatives, tranquilizers or other drugs that slow breathing

-Know that mixing other medications with buprenorphine can lead to overdose or death

White County Health Department urges residents to call the Tennessee REDLINE at 1-800-889-9789 for immediate help for anyone suffering from a substance abuse disorder.

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