Introduction: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved buprenorphine or Subutex for the treatment of opiate dependence in October 2002. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist of the mu-opioid receptor; although initial animal research suggested a low abuse potential for buprenorphine, it was subsequently shown to have an abuse potential similar to that of morphine or hydromorphone. The objectives of this study were to establish the sociodemographic profile and help-seeking behaviour of buprenorphine abusers attending the de-addiction treatment clinics of the Community Addictions Management Programme.Materials and Methods: One hundred and twenty subjects, all buprenorphine abusers fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for opiate dependence, who consented to the study, completed an interviewer-administered questionnaire. Results: The mean age of those participating in the study was 39.2 [standard deviation (SD) 8.0] years. The majority of the participants were male (90%), 52.5% were currently employed and 98% had at least primary education. A family history of drug abuse was reported by 27% of the subjects. Illicit drug abuse occurred at an early age with mean age of onset of illicit drug abuse being 16.9 (SD 4.8) years with gateway drugs like marijuana and glue. Conclusions: It is vital for our medical profession to be aware of the trend in the local population to move from the abuse of illicit substances, to the abuse of prescriptive medications. It makes it necessary to increase the understanding of addictions both amongst our practising medical fraternity, and amongst those training to enter the profession. At the hospital level, it necessitates a higher level of vigilance among our emergency room physicians and those treating infectious diseases.
Opiate dependence is a major health and social concern in many countries across the world. The burden of disease is considerable, with surveys indicating that up to 2% of the population had used opiates for non-medicinal reasons.
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