When Children’s Scribbles Hide a Prison Drug

From The New York Times:

Mike Barrett, a corrections officer, ripped open an envelope in the mail room at the Maine Correctional Center here and eyed something suspicious: a Father’s Day card, sent a month early. He carefully felt the card and slit it open, looking for a substance that has made mail call here a different experience of late.

Mr. Barrett and other prison officials nationwide are searching their facilities, mail and visitors for Suboxone, a drug used as a treatment for opiate addiction that has become coveted as contraband. Innovative smugglers have turned crushed Suboxone pills into a paste and spread it under stamps or over children’s artwork, including pages from a princess coloring book found in a New Jersey jail.

The drug also comes in thin strips, which dissolve under the tongue, that smugglers have tucked behind envelope seams and stamps.

Law enforcement officials say that Suboxone, which is prescribed to treat addiction to heroin and powerful painkillers like oxycodone, has become a drug of abuse in its own right, resulting in prison smuggling efforts from New Mexico to Maine. Addicts buy it on the street when they cannot find or afford their drug of choice, to stave off the sickness that comes with withdrawal. But some people are also taking it for the high they say it provides.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Suboxone in 2002 as the first narcotic that doctors could prescribe for addiction to opiates. Seen as a more convenient alternative to methadone, which can be dispensed only at federally licensed clinics, it blocks the effects of opiates while reducing cravings and easing withdrawal symptoms.

A spokeswoman for Reckitt Benckiser, the drug’s manufacturer, said in an e-mail that the company was “aware that a certain level of Suboxone diversion and abuse exists,” and that it had taken steps to counter it.

To deter abuse, Suboxone contains naloxone, a substance that precipitates withdrawal symptoms when the drug is injected. Suboxone also has a ceiling effect, with the effect leveling off after a certain dosage.

But users can experience euphoria, especially if they do not take it regularly, and Suboxone, whose main ingredient is buprenorphine, is increasingly sold on the street in New England and other regions where it is commonly prescribed.

Posted: 5/27/2011 9:09:00 AM

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