New Jersey’s Health Commissioner has recently authorized paramedics to administer buprenorphine to patients shortly after reviving them from an opioid overdose while out on calls. The paramedics would offer the drug, which is marketed under the brand name Suboxone, after the overdose has first been reversed using naloxone, an opioid antidote.
Health officials say this program, which is the first of its kind in the country, has two goals:
• Treat the withdrawal symptoms that may result from being revived from an opioid overdose with naloxone; and
• Giving buprenorphine to the patient when they are revived could get them moving forward on the path to long-term treatment.
How Buprenorphine Works in Addiction Treatment
When buprenorphine is administered, it binds to opioid receptors in the brain. Someone with an opioid addiction will experience fewer cravings for the drug, effectively creating a “softer landing” as start the detoxification (detox) process, which is the first stage of treatment.
This medication is shown to be very effective at reducing illegal drug use and overdose deaths. It is still an opioid and a Schedule III substance according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule III substances are “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” (DEA.gov)
Some emergency department doctors have been prescribing buprenorphine to provide some treatment after reversing an overdose. Medical doctors who are licensed to prescribe controlled substances must take a separate training course (8-24 hours) to prescribe buprenorphine. This fact makes New Jersey’s decision to allow paramedics to treat patients with the drug even more significant.
Buprenorphine Not the Same as a Drug Treatment Program
While buprenorphine has its place in an overall drug treatment plan, it isn’t the same thing as a person who has been revived from an overdose entering a drug treatment program. Receiving this drug from paramedics or an emergency department will, at best, stabilize a patient and lower their risk of another overdose. The patient’s best bet for recovery is to seek professional help.