Fewer than 32,000 physicians allowed to prescribe opioid addiction medication

Accreditation Insider, March 8, 2016

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Beyond their medical degree, a physician doesn’t need a special license to prescribe opioids. Which means there’s around 1 million American physicians who’re allowed to write opioid prescriptions, or one out of 320 Americans.

However, prescribing buprenorphine to a patient suffering from drug-addiction requires an eight-hour training course and an application for a special license. Fewer than 32,000 physicians, or one out of 9,750 Americans, are allowed to prescribe buprenorphine. Worst still, the physicians permitted to prescribe buprenorphine rarely do so.

Buprenorphine is a drug used to wean drug addicted patients from their opioid cravings. The reason that Buprenorphine is restricted is because as an opioid derivative it can be abused or sold by patients. However, the drug poses a much lower overdose risk than other medications. Furthermore, a 2014 study done by the New England Comparative Effectiveness Public Advisory Council found that when coupled with counseling, proper buprenorphine usage was more effective at recovery than quitting cold turkey.

One study found that out of 78 physicians, 68% had taken the training course and received a buprenorphine license. However, only 28% of those who received the license actually prescribed the medication to patients. And half of those who prescribed gave the drug to only three patients at time, well under the maximum limit of 100 patients per physician.

A report done by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2015 found that less than half of the 2.5 million people who need medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction receive it. In September the HHS began expanding access to buprenorphine under its medication-assisted treatment program, along with $1.8 million in expanded access to naloxone, which is used to treat opioid overdoses.

However, expanding access to buprenorphine won’t do any good unless physicians prescribe it.
“Updating the current regulation around buprenorphine is an important step to increasing access to evidence-based treatment—helping more people get the treatment necessary for their recovery,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration lists organizations offering buprenorphine training programs, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

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