New drug to fight abuse

Heroin replacement drugs will be administered in state hospitals according to a Health Ministry decision. The decision, signed on October 18, empowers the Organization Against Drugs (OKANA) to begin a pilot program on giving Buprenorphine to opiate addicts in certain select hospitals in the country. It stipulates that OKANA will provide the hospital dispensary with the heroin substitute and inform specific doctors of the conditions under which the drug will be administered. These conditions will be made more specific after evaluation of the pilot program. Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opiate which suppresses the desire for heroin and makes users’ deprivation syndrome less acute, with the result that they are less likely to revert to using heroin. Pharmaceutically speaking, it possesses advantages over methadone, carrying less risk of toxicity and overdosing. It is also more effective at weakening the deprivation syndrome and has a longer-lasting effect than methadone (48 as against 24 hours for the latter). However, Buprenorphine is not indicated for all drug addicts, and especially not heroin users who have been addicted for a long time. It is known that all drug replacement treatments are effective, not so much at detoxification but at lessening the symptoms of deprivation and the danger of overdosing. Buprenophine, in particular, seems to reduce the risk of parallel drug use. Nonetheless, not a few have expressed serious reservations about the specific decision by the ministry. The shadow health and social welfare minister, Athanassios Yiannopoulos, said that the State should have laid emphasis on detoxification, prevention, rehabilitation and the solution of the chronic social problems which created drug dependency. «Struggle for Life: Society of Members and Friends of the Long-term Methadone Substitution Program» pointed out that Buprenorphine was a relatively new drug, which was not indicated for the large majority of users. It proposes that methadone be administered by state hospitals, which will slash the waiting lists for OKANA. For its part, the Association of Hospital Doctors of Athens and Piraeus (EINAP) is in favor of a «dry» detoxification program, which will function within the framework of the National Health System, and says that administration of replacement drugs by state hospitals will overburden them, given the chronic staffing and organization problems.

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