A double standard for judging the safety and efficacy of new addiction treatments
The New York Times is to be applauded for its investigative reporting on the lack of access to quality treatment for opiate addiction. However, the article omits important information in evaluating the impact of buprenorphine.
Addiction is a serious, potentially life threatening, chronic illness similar to cancer or heart disease. Because of stigma and lack of access to care, individuals with opiate addiction typically enter treatment in advanced stages of the illness.
While the article correctly characterizes buprenorphine treatment as a miracle for some, potentially dangerous for others, and perhaps offering only a temporary respite for the ravages of addiction, the same is true for the latest novel treatments for patients in advanced stages of cancer. Novel cancer treatments are rightly hailed as miracle drugs, despite their overall modest improvements in survival rates and toxic side effects. Why the double standard when evaluating a novel treatment for addiction? Perhaps the answer to this question is to be found in the continuation of the mistaken belief that addiction is a character flaw or moral weakness, rather than a medical illness.