Meds and you

20 February 2017

Anti-addiction medication may help battle drug abuse

Buprenorphine, an anti-addiction drug given in the ER to reduce cravings appears to be an effective option to combat opioid abuse, a new study finds.


According to a recent study, people addicted to opioids who were treated in a hospital emergency department did better when they receive medication to reduce their cravings.

"The ED [emergency department] visit is an ideal opportunity to identify patients with opioid use disorder and initiate treatment and direct referral, similar to best practices for other diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes," said study co-leader Dr Gail D'Onofrio in a Yale University news release. D'Onofrio is chair of emergency medicine at the university.

Three treatments 

The study looked at 290 people addicted to opioids who went to an emergency department. They received one of three treatments:

1. A referral to addiction treatment services

2. A short interview including discussion of treatment

3. A brief interview and the medication buprenorphine

According to a Health24 article, buprenorphine is an addiction-treatment drug used to reduce cravings in the short term for people who are opioid-dependent. 

Prevention medication worked best

The patients given medication also continued treatment with their primary care doctor.

After two months of follow-up, patients who received buprenorphine were more likely to be in formal addiction treatment and to report reduced opioid use than those in the other two groups.

Reasons for taking drugs

In South Africa, where it is estimated that roughly 4.5% of the population have a drug problem, there is a growing demand that more should be done to combat drug abuse.

In a Health24 article, the director of the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre says that "most kids don't start off taking drugs, because they want to get high – they are motivated by a variety of psychological factors rather than physical ones. They want to have fun, have friends and have the status of being a risk-taker. The danger is part of the appeal."

Among the many reasons for young people taking drugs are:

  • Stress relief
  • To forget or escape problems
  • Being a rebel and a risk-taker
  • Relief of boredom/wanting to have fun
  • Escaping difficult decisions
  • A feeling of being special
  • Being part of a significant group of people
  • Being addicted
  • Curiosity

The United States is currently in the throes of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. More than six out of 10 overdose deaths involve opioid drugs, and 91 Americans die every day from prescription opioids or heroin, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deaths from prescription painkillers – such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) – as well as heroin and methadone have more than quadrupled since 1999, according to the CDC.

Read more:

Painkiller misuse in US doubles in decade

SA implements 5 year plan to end drug abuse and trafficking

Depression and suicide – situation in SA