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It's a problem among kids and adults as millions of Americans take drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Now, there's a new drug that could help people kick their addiction.
A recent study found behind marijuana, Vicodin is the second most abused drug among high schoolers.
Painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin are among the most widely prescribed drugs in America, and the most addictive.
Kicking a Vicodin habit can be tougher than getting off heroin. But, a new treatment is showing great promise for those who want to quit.
Once addicted, getting off pain pills like Vicodin and Oxycontin is very tough. "They get as sick as someone who's on heroin," says Dr. Mark Lasher.
"I had tried many times. Never worked for more than a couple days, until you start feeling physically ill and sick," says Debbie, a recovering addict.
The treatment often requires daily visits to a methadone clinic. Basically, substituting one addiction for another at great cost.
Methadone treatment in Fresno County alone costs taxpayers $6 million a year.
But, there is a new drug that can free addicts from methadone and withdrawal pain.
Dr. Richard Guzzetta talked about the drug, "Big breakthrough. One of the biggest I've seen since I've been treating addicts.
The drug is called Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxen or Subutex. It mimics opiate effects on the brain.
"Methadone, heroin, Vicodin, Oxycontin are full opioid agonists. They go for it and hold on to that receptor site. Suboxen, or Buprenorphine, is a partial agonist. It holds on partially," says Dr. Lasher. "Holding on enough to satisfy the craving, without creating a high, and allowing the addict to ease off."
Debbie says it worked for her, "It helped. It took away the discomfort of withdrawals."
Debbie, not her real name, says she started using pain killers, especially Vicodin, recreationally with her friends.
"It seems to me it's taken the place of marijuana. It's the new experimental drug. It's amazing," says Dr. Richard Guzetta.
And, it's not just kids. Jason is 34-years-old. He's a former police officer he was injured on the job and was given Vicodin for pain, then it became a habit.
"For me, it was like relaxing. I don't drink. But, some people have a couple of beers at the end of the day, it would start turning into that," says Jason.
Both Jason and Debbie say the addiction to Vicodin took over their lives.
"It just tears the family apart, like any addiction ... alcohol, drugs," says Jason. "Once your addicted, you lose yourself. You lose your family and your whole day is spent trying to get the drug. It's scary. You feel hopeless."
The problem is, while any doctor can prescribe addictive drugs like Vicodin, only a few can prescribe Buprenorphine.
The government requires doctors to take a class before prescribing it, then they are limited to treating only 30 patients at a time.
"It's absolutely ridiculous, because I'm an addiction specialist," says Dr. Guzzetta. "I see a lot of people every day and I have to limit my treatment to 30 opiate addicts at a time."
Doctors Richard Guzzetta and Mark Lasher are among just five doctors in Fresno authorized to prescribe Suboxen. They'd like the law changed to allow more treatment and they encourage other physicians to get involved.
"The word needs to be spread further. It's a very good medication," says Dr. Lasher.
"You take it and life goes on. It's just, there's no sickness, there's no craving," says Jason.
The reason the government decided to limit the number of patients for each doctor who prescribes Buprenorphine, was to spread the treatment out among family doctors, rather than drug clinics.