Opiate addicts need more access to "miracle drug"
TULSA - When it comes to prescription drug addiction in Oklahoma, the numbers speak for themselves.
Oklahoma ranks number one for recreational use of painkillers and nearly half of emergency room visits in 2009 were due to prescription drug overdoses, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
In what seems to be a never-ending fight to end prescription drug abuse, there are doctors who say there is a pill that will fix the pill problem. But for addicts getting their hands on the prescription, it isn't as easy as a trip to the doctor's office.
Shawn Mitchell and Dan Mayo are two of Tulsa psychiatrist Dr. Peter Rao's patients. Both claim FDA-approved Suboxone saved their lives from painkiller addiction. "I have no cravings what so ever," said Mitchell.
Dr. Rao says 90% of his opiate and heroin addicted patients have had years-long success with the medication, when it's combined with counseling and routine drug testing. He says many saw changes in the first month.
"They finish college, they get a job," said Rao. "People have been able to build an American life."
Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is supposed to reduce cravings, while the naloxone is designed to create a sick feeling in the event the drug is injected.
Dr. Rao says unlike opiates, there is no tolerance to this drug. Patients don't have to increase dosage after time. It's also described as an alternative for patience who suffer negative methadone side-effects.
But still, even as many tout it as a "miracle drug," there are a lot of restrictions on Suboxone. Doctors need a special license to prescribe it, and federal law puts a cap on the number of patients doctors can treat to 100.
In October, Dr. Rao went to Washington to meet with local lawmakers, and asked for support for House Bill 2536. It is also called the "TREAT" act and currently moving through congress.
It would lift several restrictions on Suboxone, including the cap on the number of doctors who can prescribe it.
It's a change that people like Mitchell and Mayo can't see soon enough. "[Suboxone] was a way back into my life as a family member," said Mayo.
Nationwide, there are many reports of Suboxone sold on the street. Dr. Rao says this drug is not designed to get high, and that street users are often using it to self-medicate because it's so difficult to get from a doctor.
Tulsa's Channel 8 reached out to several police departments in our area. None are seeing a problem with Suboxone sold on the streets.