World Health Organization (WHO) Urged to Keep Buprenorphine as Heroin Treatment Option

A group of physicians and activists is urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to reject the reclassification of buprenorphine as a narcotic so that the drug can continue to be used to treat heroin addiction, the U.K's NAM Publications reported May 18.

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs has proposed changing buprenorphine's scheduling from the 1971 Psychotropics Convention to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The reclassification, if approved, could limit buprenorphine availability and reduce the number of people who can be treated with the drug.

"The adoption of the proposed amendments will result in further limiting access to one of the existing options for substitution therapy," stated a letter to the WHO from a group of community advocates, harm-reduction program directors, and drug use experts headed by Mauro Guarinieri, chairperson of the European AIDS Treatment Group. "It will probably introduce further barriers for accomplishing the goal of equal and universal access to antiretroviral treatment in countries where injecting drug use is closely related to HIV/AIDS."

As a treatment alternative for heroin addiction, buprenorphine helps to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Unlike methadone, which is commonly used to treat heroin addiction in a clinic, buprenorphine has a low misuse potential and can be prescribed in primary-care settings.

Editor's Note: As a signatory to these conventions, the United States would be bound to the U.N.'s decision, which could impact buprenorphine use domestically as well as internationally..


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