Despite the rising rate of addiction to opioids, a relatively small number of doctors are authorized and willing to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction, according to Stateline.
Fewer than 32,000 doctors are authorized to prescribe the treatment, and most doctors with a license to prescribe buprenorphine seldom if ever use it, the article notes.
In contrast, more than 900,000 U.S. doctors can write prescriptions for painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.
Studies have found that opioid addiction medicines like buprenorphine, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, offers a much higher chance of recovery than treatments not involving medication, according to Stateline.
Under an agreement with the federal government, California’s county-run Medicaid programs are scheduled to begin covering a full set of addiction treatment options recommended by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, including opioid addiction treatments.
Unlike methadone, which is dispensed at clinics under the supervision of a certified health professional, buprenorphine is prescribed by doctors in an office setting and taken at home. It relieves drug cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Under federal law, doctors prescribing buprenorphine must have a special license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They undergo eight hours of training, and can only prescribe buprenorphine to 30 patients in the first year. After that, the patient limit goes up to 100. This limit was established to prevent doctors from setting up “pill mills” to prescribe buprenorphine for a fee without ensuring patients are using the pills for recovery.
In September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it will remove some obstacles that limit the ability of doctors to prescribe buprenorphine.
The HHS will develop revisions to the regulations “to provide a balance between expanding the supply of this important treatment, encouraging the use of evidence-based [medication-assisted treatment], and minimizing the risk of drug diversion,” the department said.