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Medication Effective At Treating Addiction Becomes More Readily Available

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — During the coronavirus pandemic, opioid overdose deaths skyrocketed in the United States to an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there is hope.

A proven medication to treat addiction has been made more accessible to those who need it. One Utah doctor said it’s a highly-effective treatment.

Buprenorphine has been prescribed since the 1970s.

“Helps with withdrawal, helps with cravings, helps people with their recovery,” said Paula Cook, M.D., addiction specialist and chief medical officer with the Odyssey House.

It hasn’t been widely used by doctors, according to Cook, because of the difficulties involved in prescribing.

“Previously, we’ve required a training and a waiver for prescribers to prescribe this medication,” she said.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid and a controlled substance.

While prescribing it always carries risks — like sedation, overdose and abuse potential — Cook said it’s much safer than all other opioids.

She said the benefits of getting it to more patients who need it far outweigh the risks.

It stabilizes the brain, allowing patients to focus on recovery, giving them a greater chance at sobriety, according to Cook.

“More people are able to get away from opioid use and get back to living opioid-free lives,” she said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people taking the drug were less likely to die from overdose or to transmit HIV. They were also less likely to commit a crime.

“If you ask patients who are on Buprenorphine, they’ll tell you it’s a game-changer,” said Cook. “This just makes it more accessible. It means that more providers can step up.”

The drug can now be prescribed in outpatient clinics, reaching rural areas, as well as people who are unwilling to go to rehab.

“(It) allows more providers to come to the table and think of the medication as a first-line response to a medically diagnosable condition,” said Cook.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, help is available at the University of Utah Addiction Recovery Services. Their number is 801-583-2500.

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