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Opioid addiction and abuse in primary care practice: a comparison of methadone and buprenorphine as treatment options

Jean Bonhomme, Ruth S Shim, Richard Gooden, Dawn Tyus, George Rust
Journal of the National Medical Association 2012, 104 (7-8): 342-50
23092049
Opioid abuse and addiction have increased in frequency in the United States over the past 20 years. In 2009, an estimated 5.3 million persons used opioid medications nonmedically within the past month, 200000 used heroin, and approximately 9.6% of African Americans used an illicit drug. Racial and ethnic minorities experience disparities in availability and access to mental health care, including substance use disorders. Primary care practitioners are often called upon to differentiate between appropriate, medically indicated opioid use in pain management vs inappropriate abuse or addiction. Racial and ethnic minority populations tend to favor primary care treatment settings over specialty mental health settings. Recent therapeutic advances allow patients requiring specialized treatment for opioid abuse and addiction to be managed in primary care settings. The Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 enables qualified physicians with readily available short-term training to treat opioid-dependent patients with buprenorphine in an office-based setting, potentially making primary care physicians active partners in the diagnosis and treatment of opioid use disorders. Methadone and buprenorphine are effective opioid replacement agents for maintenance and/or detoxification of opioid-addicted individuals. However, restrictive federal regulations and stigmatization of opioid addiction and treatment have limited the availability of methadone. The opioid partial agonist-antagonist buprenorphine/naloxone combination has proven an effective alternative. This article reviews the literature on differences between buprenorphine and methadone regarding availability, efficacy, safety, side-effects, and dosing, identifying resources for enhancing the effectiveness of medication-assisted recovery through coordination with behavioral/psychological counseling, embedded in the context of recovery-oriented systems of care.

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