Trouble for recovering opioid addicts: Drug used to treat addiction found to cause breathing problems
03/21/2019 // Jhoanna Robinson // Views

You can't always fight fire with fire, especially when it comes to drugs. A study led by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville revealed that buprenorphine, a drug prescribed to treat opioid addiction, can cause breathing problems in some patients. The research, which was published in the journal Anesthesiology, comes on the heels of a growing case of opioid abuse in the country -- one that both local and state officials are scrambling to resolve. Based on the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2017, over 700,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses.

Buprenorphine is one of three drugs approved by the Food and Drug Association to help those who are undergoing treatment for drug abuse. While the agency has cleared it for use since 2002, the researchers have identified in their study that the drug hinders the ability of obese mice to breathe. They posited that the results of the in vivo test could be applied to humans, as the ability to vary breathing is essential in performing tasks such as climbing stairs and responding to stress such as surgical and disease stress.

"The discovery of the drug's previously unknown side effect should help clinicians improve patient care," explained Ralph Lydic, the study's lead author and a professor of neuroscience at UT Medical Center.

The study also lends itself to a growing body of knowledge regarding the opioid abuse epidemic, as well as explore ways of dealing with it. In a recent study made by the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal economic development agency, the researchers showed that prescription drug abuse in Appalachia was higher and growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country.


"Recovery from opioid addiction is very difficult, and in the most successful cases, can require two or more years," Lydic added. "The delay…in discovering this effect of buprenorphine should help lay readers appreciate the need to support basic and clinical research."

Understanding scheduled drugs

The Controlled Substances Act, which is part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, classifies drugs into five categories, or "schedules," based on the following factors:

  • Potential for abuse
  • Safety
  • Addictive potential
  • Legitimate medical applications

Schedule I Drugs are those that have no currently accepted medical use and have a very high potential for abuse. These include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and methaqualone, among others.

Schedule II Drugs are substances that have a high potential for abuse. These drugs can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence and include cocaine, methadone, meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), methamphetamine, fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin, among others.

Schedule III Drugs are considered to have a moderate to low potential for abuse and a low potential for psychological or physical dependence. Buprenorphine is a Schedule III drug with a lower abuse risk than methadone.

Schedule IV Drugs have a low potential for abuse and psychological or physical dependence.

Interestingly enough, medical marijuana -- including its medicinal compound cannabidiol (CBD) -- is still considered a Schedule I Drug by the FDA, despite multiple studies, as well as an official decision by the World Health Organization, that say otherwise. In a statement, the agency notes that CBD can be used for various treatments, including palliative care, and does not carry any risk of addiction -- unlike opioids and other prescription drugs. keeps you up-to-date with the latest articles on the ongoing opioid epidemic.

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