Doctor readies for breakthrough opioid treatment option

Implant treatment option available for first time

SAN ANTONIO – Nearly six months after the FDA approved an implant for the treatment of opioid addiction, a San Antonio-area doctor is preparing to offer the therapy to his patients.

Dr. Jeffrey Butts, of Boerne, said the buprenorphine implant is another option for addicts seeking a path to recovery.

“My goal as a physician is to eventually -- and ideally -- taper patients off of opiates,” he said. “I do not like to see somebody opiate-dependent the rest of their life.”

The treatment is expensive. At $5,000 per implant, Butts said he is working with his patients’ insurance companies. But he thinks it’s an appropriate price tag considering the cost of keeping up the addiction.

The buprenorphine implant, a Probuphine drug, is placed underneath the skin below the bicep. The medication is released slowly over the course of six months. Butts said it eliminates the need to do daily dosing on other treatments like methadone. Out of sight, out of mind, he said.

The opioid epidemic has claimed thousands of lives, and grips new addicts every day. Some addicts have been chained to the drugs for years.

Butts said he realizes the stigma associated with addiction, as well as treatment. He said it’s unfair for addicts to be expected to get clean quickly.

“They don’t do well with a 28-day treatment, with a five-day detox coming off of opiates,” Butts said.

For the most part, addiction industry insiders aren’t critical of buprenorphine. But there is a lot more research to be done. Until now, the FDA reported that buprenorphine used for the treatment of opioid dependence was approved only as a pill or a piece of film that was placed under the tongue or on the inside of a person’s cheek until it dissolved.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said the implant is the first-ever implantable option to support a patient’s efforts to get treatment as part of their overall recovery.

"Opioid abuse and addiction have taken a devastating toll on American families,” he said in a statement about the FDA’s approval of the buprenorphine implant. “We must do everything we can to make new, innovative treatment options available that can help patients regain control over their lives.”

Butts understands addiction, too. He was once a periodic stimulant abuser and alcohol addict himself. As a physician, he has treated celebrities on their movie sets.

Today, the doctor and recovering addict said every patient who comes to him is a celebrity. They have chosen to seek a better life.