Feb. 4, 2014 -- New York City detectives confirmed that, along with the 50 bags of heroin found in Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment at the time of his death, they also found a variety of prescription drugs including the addiction-treatment drug buprenorphine.
Buprenorphine is a relatively new medication used to treat addiction to heroin and other narcotics. Also sold under the brand names, Suboxone and Zubsolv, buprenorphine has fewer side effects compared to some of the older anti-addiction drugs such as methadone. And taking larger doses doesn't produce a bigger high so there's a lower risk of overdose and less incentive for an addict to abuse it.
Anti-addiction drugs have proven very useful for treating heroin addiction, according to Dr. Jason Jerry, a professor of medicine with the Cleveland Clinic's Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center.
"Only 10 to 20 percent of patients who are completely detoxed and off of everything manage to stay clean for an extended period of time," Jerry said. "But the research shows that about 60 to 70 percent of people who use medications like buprenorphine or methadone are still in treatment after one year."
Doctor's often prescribe the medication as part of treatment for heroin addiction, Jerry said, but it's also a popular street drug.
"Our experience in the treatment world is that people will use it when they can't get their drug of choice or if they can't get into a legitimate treatment program," he said.
Despite being safer than heroin, Jerry said the drug isn't without risks. It can still be habit-forming and used in the wrong combination with other drugs, it can cause severe breathing difficulties.