There was a steady increase in the number of patients attending for opioid substitution treatment (OST) with buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) in the final months of last year, according to recent figures provided to this newspaper.

New HSE figures show this number had increased to 261 by December. This compares with 203 patients, as reported in April 2019.

At the end of 2017, there were 110 patients in receipt of Suboxone, an alternative substitution treatment for opioid drug dependence. New regulations were introduced in November 2017 to provide access to certain buprenorphine-based medicinal products in the OST system on the same statutory basis as methadone. HSE figures showed that, in September, 237 patients were receiving Suboxone, 240 in October, 249 in November and 261 in December. GPs contacted last August said access to Suboxone was working well but they did not predict a major shift of patients from methadone.

In December, there were 9,713 patients attending for methadone treatment, according to the HSE. 

“It is the HSE’s intention to expand the availability of opioid substitution treatment (buprenorphine-based products) as appropriate,” a HSE spokesperson commented. 

“Training has been delivered in HSE addiction services in relation to buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) prescribing. 

“Level II GPs in the community who have received training can also prescribe. 

“We continue to monitor the numbers in receipt of this form of OST and encourage services to consider this option when appropriate when treating individuals with opioid dependence syndrome.”