Inadequate access to opioid addiction treatment programs has led to a thriving black market for Suboxone, the drug that helps patients overcome their addiction, experts tell The Wall Street Journal. More than 36,000 doctors are certified in the United States to prescribe Suboxone and other buprenorphine-based medications. Until last year, those doctors were limited to prescribing the drugs to 100 patients each. Last year, the Obama Administration increased that number to 275, and began allowing physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe the drugs. So far only about 3,000 doctors have received approval to treat up to 275 patients, the article notes. “If the providers were geographically distributed appropriately and if they all worked at capacity, we would now have adequate capacity,” a federal spokesman told the newspaper. “But of course they are not, so there is unmet need.”
Many insurance companies require patients who have been prescribed the opioid addiction treatment Suboxone to get prior authorization, NPR reports. This requirement can take days or weeks, leaving patients vulnerable to relapse, one expert says. Sam Muszynski, Director of Health Care Systems and Financing at the American Psychiatric Association, said, “You may lose that opportunity right then and there. They may never come back.” Medicaid required a prior authorization for buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, in 48 states in 2013. “It’s almost like when you take on a patient to treat opiate addiction, you also have to take on another patient called the insurance company,” said Dr. Andrew Chambers, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist in Indianapolis.
A new study finds few family practice physicians are prescribing the opioid addiction treatment Suboxone for their Medicare patients. “There’s lots and lots of prescribing opioids for pain, but very little prescribing of this specific drug to treat opioid addiction,” lead researcher Dr. Anna Lembke of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic told HealthDay. Her study, published in JAMA Psychiatry , found for every 40 family practice physicians who prescribed an opioid painkiller for a Medicare patient, only one prescribed Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. The article notes more than six out of every 1,000 Medicare patients have been diagnosed with an addiction to opioids.