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Concern about Misuse of Heroin Treatment Drug

There are concerns a prescription drug meant to help heroin addicts is causing its own problems.
ST. ALBANS, Vt. - There are concerns a prescription drug meant to help heroin addicts is causing its own problems.
  
It's called buprenorphine or goes by its brand name Suboxone.

The State of Vermont says it tracks who is prescribing Suboxone and how much each person is receiving. But experts say it's clear there's a black market for the drug, even in prison.

"I've never seen anything like this," says Linda Ryan, executive director of Tim's House, a homeless shelter in St. Albans.

That's why Ryan wants people to know what's happening across Vermont.

"A lot of Suboxone is being diverted and abused and it's, it's sad," says Ryan.

Suboxone is supposed to be prescribed to help people deal with a heroin addiction.

"They sell it. They make about $1,600 a month. Some may do other things with it and some buy heroin with it," says Ryan.

Ryan says Suboxone has become a gateway drug. She says she got fed up about a year ago when almost every person staying here was on Suboxone.

"There's just too much of it in the streets and in prison right now," says Ryan.

It can be simple to try and get it into prison.

"That letter had four small pieces of Suboxone strips taped to the back of the letter," says Detective Matthew Hill, Vermont State Police.

Hill says two women were busted this week trying to send the drug to someone at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. He says attempts to smuggle Suboxone into jail are becoming more common, as is finding people in the community with it.

"People are trying to use it as a way to hold them over until they can get into a treatment program because of the waiting lists in Vermont for getting into these treatment programs. Some of the people I've talked to have said, 'I bought it and I bought it because I'm trying to stay off of heroin and this helps me do that'," says Hill.

Ryan, who is a licensed drug counselor, says the drug can help some people. But she worries it's hurting too many others.

"We need to prescribe this drug less. Maybe have it as a last resort treatment instead of a first," says Ryan.

Police say if they do catch someone abusing a Suboxone prescription they can reach out to their doctor. Then their management plan can be changed, including only giving them one dose a day.

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