Suboxone, the brand name of the medication Buprenorphine plus the overdose antidote, Naloxone, is an effective treatment that can help people addicted to opioids and save lives. But few doctors prescribe it.
Last year in King County over three hundred died from overdoses, a record number.
Hargrove is married, has four grandkids, and goes to church every Sunday.
Twelve years ago she had major surgery. “I was in the hospital maybe three weeks, and then I came home,” Hargrove said. “But in that time I was on pain medication and I grew dependent.”
For over two years, she got pills like oxycodone from a friend or by going doctor to doctor, making up “stories” about why she needed them. Without them, she felt sick.
“Just icky. Sweaty. I felt crampy, irritable, not wanting to be bothered,” Hargrove said.
Now Hargrove is in treatment and has been in recovery for eight years.
One day recently she met with her doctor, Grant Scull at Kaiser Permanente on Capitol Hill, who checked up on how the medication was working for her. Dr. Scull is one of the few providers in the area who treat addiction with Suboxone.
The medication works in the body’s pain receptors, he said.
“When someone takes an opioid — heroin, oxycodone are examples, the opioids have to go to a little attachment on the cell’s surface in order for them to be active in our bodies. It’s the place where the molecule plugs in to have its effect,” Scull said.
Suboxone plugs in too. It keeps other opioids, like pain pills and heroin, out of the way. So, it satisfies the body and keeps a person from feeling sick, getting high, or overdosing.
Patients get relief from constantly seeking drugs and can focus on normal life again.
“They are then able to take a medicine once a day that they know will protect them from an overdose, protect them from withdrawal and allow them to engage in their normal activities,” Scull said. “And I think that’s the transformative element of Suboxone.”
More and more clinics, including providers like Swedish and Neighborcare Health, are making the medication available.