by Mary Helen Yarborough
These drug addicts are unlikely to end up in an alley or asleep on a
sidewalk. Many of these addicts are executives, homemakers, community
leaders or just ordinary, hardworking individuals who became addicted
to prescription painkillers.
from left Geoffrey Cheek and Sheldon Weinstein, Lisa Wimberly, and
Austin O’Malley discuss opiate addiction group sessions.
response to this fast-growing population of drug abusers, the MUSC
Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CDAP) Outpatient Services offers
a highly specialized therapy to treat opiate addiction with the use of
the new drug buprenorphine (trade name, Suboxone) taken orally in pill
The drug is the first opioid (or opiate) medication approved under the
Children’s Health Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) for the treatment of opiate
dependence in an office-based setting. DATA 2000 permits qualified
physicians to obtain a waiver from registration requirements of the
Narcotic Addict Treatment Act to treat opiate addiction with opiate
medications or using a combination of these drugs that have been
approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opiate addiction
CDAP is one of a handful of centers certified to use this new drug as
part of group therapy at its West Ashley center. CDAP’s newly-expanded
facilities enable six groups of 12 members each to be treated under the
program weekly, according to Lisa Wimberly, R.N., a licensed
professional counselor and CDAP out-patient clinical coordinator.
“Opiate dependence has become a huge problem,” Wimberly said. “People
whom you wouldn’t ordinarily suspect as having a substance abuse
problem have become addicted to prescription pain medication.”
The increase in this drug-dependent group is reflected by the physical
vulnerabilities of the Baby Boomer generation, Wimberly explained.
Common pathways to painkiller dependence include joint injuries, i.e.
lower back, knees, neck, hip, foot and hand injuries.
The injured end up trading one problem for another; and the addiction
often is harder to cure than a dislocated rotator cuff. Some are
violating the law to obtain these painkillers or are resorting to
doctor-shopping to keep the prescriptions coming. Consequently, legal,
employment or relationship problems lead to addiction treatment,
according to Wimberly, adding that others are being referred by their
doctors or loved ones.
Using buprenorphine as part of therapy must be closely monitored by
certified medical personnel. CDAP requires patients to undergo
counseling as part of their drug treatment.
Buprenorphine is a partial opiate agonist, so its opiate effects are
limited in comparison to full opiate agonists, such as oxycodone or
heroin. “In other words, it won’t get you high, but it will get you
by,” Wimberly quipped, explaining that it will prevent the withdrawals
but not provide the euphoria of full agonists.
The drug therapy includes the use of naloxone to discourage people from
dissolving the tablet and injecting it. The drug therapy helps suppress
symptoms of opiate withdrawal and decrease cravings for opiates. It
also has proven effective in reducing opiate use by patients who remain
For more information about the buprenorphine therapy, or to learn more about CDAP programs, call 792-9162; or visit http://www.muschealth.com/psychiatry/CDAP_OP.
Friday, May 22, 2009