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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Pilot program begun to use buprenorphine for opioid addiction

Photo Credit: NPR

By John McPhaul

Seeking to strengthen and expand the diversity of specialized services that are available in Puerto Rico for the treatment, rehabilitation and recovery that people with a diagnosis of Opioid Use Disorder so desperately need, the Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) initiated a pilot program that will benefit this population by allowing them to receive free buprenorphine, one of the drugs that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of dependence on these substances.

The administrator of the ASSMCA, the attorney Carmen Bonet explained that this pilot program is great news for health in Puerto Rico, communities and opium-dependent patients since this new treatment provides other alternatives for the recovery process of these people that does not require daily visits to clinics. However, she noted that each person is evaluated to identify their needs and establish an individualized treatment plan.

“Through this innovative program, patients at the Medication-Assisted Comprehensive Treatment Clinics (CTIAM by its Spanish initials) will receive this free medication that works by partially activating opioid receptors in the brain, significantly reducing the intense desire to use opioids, withdrawal symptoms, and overall use of this type of drug. We are working hard so that everyone who has this diagnosis can have different treatments available and that the professionals in our clinics have more and better alternatives to help them in their recovery process. In this way, we continue to successfully comply with the public policy efforts promoted by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to preserve the life and health of this population,” said the administrator of ASSMCA.

Bonet also explained that the buprenorphine pilot program will be implemented in phases, initially in the ETCAM of Bayamón and Ponce, and then expanded to all clinics. In the first phase of implementation, it is expected to benefit about 100 participants. Participants who meet the inclusion criteria for the program in the first phase will be induced to treatment with sublingual buprenorphine. This step is important to then evaluate those participants who may be candidates for buprenorphine injectable treatment.

Like methadone treatment, the buprenorphine program is free of charge to participants. Some of the admission criteria for the pilot program are: having a diagnosis of Opioid Use Disorder or a history of problematic opioid use, based on the diagnostic criteria of the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders at the time of evaluation; be over 18 years of age, among others.

“Buprenorphine is a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which acts directly on the central nervous system with scientifically proven results to treat people with opioid dependence. The goal of treatment in STEM is to eliminate and/or reduce the use of these and other drugs in those who come to seek help, and to promote those services that seek to restore the physical, mental, and social health of all participants. Likewise, we emphasize that pregnant women or women who have dependent children, as well as people who are HIV carriers, are considered for priority admission. We also offer education on how to prevent the risk of overdose with opioid use, especially after medically supervised withdrawal (detoxification), or acquiring or transmitting infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, C, Tuberculosis or other sexually transmitted infections,” the administrator said.

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