By Gene Emery
BOSTON (Reuters) - The drug Suboxone may help opium addicts kick their habit, but it makes little difference whether taken once or three times a week or whether patients also receive intensive counseling, a new study shows.
About 40 percent of 166 volunteers passed their urine tests in a 24-week study, regardless of which combination of counseling and Suboxone therapy they received.
Without the drug, only about 5 percent would probably have had a clean urine sample, said study leader David Fiellin in the report in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings suggest that aggressive counseling may be unnecessary for opium addicts who take the small orange tablet, which relieves symptoms of opiate withdrawal such as agitation, nausea and insomnia.
The study shows that "patients can receive this medication and do well in a primary care physician's office" with nothing more than weekly counseling, Fiellin, of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., told Reuters.
Suboxone, made by the healthcare unit of Britain's Reckitt Benckiser Plc, is available by prescription at any pharmacy and is aimed at getting drug addiction patients away from poorly run clinics.
It contains buprenorphine, a narcotic that produces less euphoria than morphine, codeine or heroin. It also contains naloxone, another drug that interferes with the effects of opioids on the brain.
"We were surprised but somewhat pleased to see that patients did as well with the medication and briefer counseling," said Fiellin. The next step is to see if the counseling is only needed once a month, he added.