New York City last year set up an annual $38 million fund to fight the opioid crisis. About half of the funding goes to law enforcement efforts to fight the spread of drugs, and most of the rest goes to Narcan, the drug that reverses an overdose, and Suboxone.
Suboxone, generically called buprenorphine or “bupe,” is a synthetic opioid (like methadone) that counters opioid cravings. Currently 43,000 city residents are on daily opioid maintenance drugs—Suboxone (13,600) or methadone (30,000)—most of those through Medicaid. The city hopes to increase the number of New Yorkers on Suboxone chiefly to 58,000 by 2022, since Suboxone is supposed to be less addictive and needed for a shorter time than methadone. The mayor’s office did not return requests for comment.
The city has also unveiled a $3 million public relations campaign for methadone and Suboxone, with personal stories from people who say the drugs have kept them alive. “I am living proof that buprenorphine treatment works,” says one ad testimonial from a woman named Chelle.
Luke Nasta, the executive director of a residential recovery facility on Staten Island called Camelot, said he isn’t against Suboxone but that the city was cherry-picking Suboxone success stories: “I can cherry-pick too.” He says he contacted the city to ask that it do PSAs about long-term residential recovery, too. He did not receive a response.
Used properly, Suboxone has a record of keeping addicts from overdosing. But the focus—locally and nationally—on funding Suboxone as the magic solution to the opioid epidemic shows some of the simplistic thinking that led to the epidemic in the first place, as unscrupulous doctors are overprescribing it in similar ways to the doctors who once overprescribed opioids.