WKYT Investigates: The Suboxone dilemma

LONDON, Ky. (WKYT) - Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat opiate addiction. It is a schedule three narcotic. "It's abused as much as the drug it's supposed to help you withdraw from," said an undercover police detective with the London Police Department.

He showed us hidden video of a police informant buying Suboxone from a woman who had been prescribed the drug. When the woman hands over the Suboxone strips, she first tears them out of their packages "because she needed the package to show her doctor," the detective said.

"When I couldn't find pills, when I was sick, I resorted to Suboxone. I abused Suboxone," said a man finishing up his rehabilitation at Chad's Hope in Manchester. He said he started using drugs when he was 12 years-old. He's now 34 years-old. Toward the end, he said Suboxone was one of his go-to drugs.

Dan Smoot, director of Operation UNITE, a group that fights drug abuse in Kentucky, said his office has seen more than a 100% increase in the number of prescriptions written for Suboxone in the past two years. "We've seen a drastic increase in Suboxone clinics. We have over 200 clinics in Eastern and Southern Kentucky right now, which is a drastic increase over the past two years," Smoot said.

Dr. Charles Barton is an OB-GYN in London. In 2010, he started prescribing Subutex, a similar drug to Suboxone. Both are used for addiction treatment. "I consider addiction to be a disease. I don't get frustrated at my diabetics who I'm having to give more insulin because they're leaving here and going to McDonald's or Golden Coral. Which I know they do," Dr. Barton said.

Dr. Barton runs an outpatient addiction clinic inside his practice. He says it has a waiting list. His ultimate goal is to help pregnant women addicted to opiates. "We've had patients that were living in a tent, eating canned food. We got them in the clinic. We took care of them and they took their babies home," Barton explained.

Dr. Barton says his Subutex clinic has felt heat from the community. Long-time patients chose other doctors, not wanting to be associated with drug addicts. "Doing nothing isn't going to stop the problem," he said.

"He gave me one tablet a day, then quickly went to three-quarters, and then half tablet," said one of Dr. Barton's patients. She delivered a baby boy 16 months ago. That was her second child. She said after she had her first baby, she got hooked on pain pills. "It was very severe. I was taking anywhere between seven to eight Percocet 30's a day," she said.

"I just wanted something better for my child. I didn't want him to see his mommy doing something she shouldn't or my child being taken away," she said. She said with Dr. Barton's help, her baby was born without withdrawals. "He's the smartest little guy ever." Like all of Dr. Barton's patients on Subutex, her treatment didn't end at birth. She's now on small maintenance doses of Suboxone and staying off her old addiction. Trading a pile of pills for one controversial one.

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