BOARDPREP MEETS THE CHALLENGE IN TAMPA BAY
With the number of opioid overdose deaths rising in many states since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a longstanding “supply” issue has gained more attention, including in the halls of Congress. The supply in question? Doctors and clinicians who can prescribe buprenorphine.
Given the explosion of cases of opioid addiction in recent months, a renewed appeal for help has been raised regarding the deficient number of doctors who have taken the required training and received permission from the federal government to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to help patients overcome opioid addiction and prevent overdose.
According to a Wall Street Journal report in June (6/7/20), “many addiction experts say the key to reversing the nation’s spike in opioid-overdose deaths is medication-assisted treatment, which includes a prescription medicine to suppress cravings, coupled with counseling and social support.”
Just two years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General labeled these treatments the “gold standard” for addressing opioid addiction , citing numerous studies that fatal overdoses decrease by up to 50% when addiction medication and therapeutic counseling are used.
However, to meet the need—nearly two million Americans currently have an opioid-use disorder—it’s clear much more must be done to enable those seeking help to receive such therapies.
Per the same recent Wall Street Journal report, the U.S. Office of Inspector General conducted a study and found that “40% of U.S. counties still have no clinicians permitted to prescribe buprenorphine, even though the U.S. recorded 46,000 opioid-overdose deaths last year.” One contributing factor adds the report, is that doctors have only just begun to embrace their role in extinguishing it.
In 2002, buprenorphine was approved for use, and Congress then passed legislature such that any physician who’d participated in an 8-hour training would obtain an “X waiver” from the Drug Enforcement Administration, allowing them to prescribe it. Since, at the time, there were over a million doctors in the U.S., this seemed to be a promising approach to significantly increase access for those needing opioid addiction treatment. Unfortunately, less than 10% of physicians in the U.S. have taken the training and gotten the waiver needed to prescribe the drug—regardless of the fact the opioid crisis has escalated exponentially.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has made treatment access even more challenging for many, forcing countless clinics and providers to significantly cut down their operating hours and in-person visits.
Concerned members of the medical community and legislators have proposed that all medical residents be required to receive training in treating addiction. However, a number of surveys have indicated that physicians are often “wary taking on the role because they believe patients seeking help with their addictions will be difficult or time-consuming, while others worry the medications are complicated to administer.”
Still, increasing access to buprenorphine for those addicted to opioids is being championed by many who stand by its demonstrated benefits. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, has stated, “Treating opioid-use disorder is arguably one of the most rewarding things that can be done in medicine. You have someone with a potentially fatal condition, you offer them effective treatment, and there’s this sort of rapid and almost Lazarus-like effect of people getting better.”
In fact, two years ago, Dr. Wakeman and other clinicians published a call to “X the X waiver,” which discussed ways to increase the supply of doctors, nurse practitioners and clinicians who could prescribe buprenorphine, and it was supported by a number of medical professional societies, as well as the National Academies of Science this past January. Congress has also put forward legislation to deregulate the prescription of buprenorphine – the COVID-19 pandemic has put that legislative debate on hold.
Other measures have been put forward, as well, including Brown University Professor of Medicine Josiah Rich’s proposal to make addiction treatment part of the standard curriculum for all medical residency programs nationwide. And Rep. Lori Trahan (D., Mass.) recently proposed to Congress a requirement that all doctors who prescribe controlled substances also undergo training in treating addiction.
Hopefully, the voices of those calling to increase the supply of doctors and clinicians who can prescribe buprenorphine will be heard and appropriate follow-up action taken to stem the tide of opioid addiction and deaths due to opioid overdose.
BoardPrep Recovery Center Can Help
The professionals at BoardPrep Recovery Center uphold the gold standard in both addiction and mental health treatment. Treatment at BoardPrep Recovery in Tampa, Florida meets the highest standards in the field for drug addiction help. Our treatment program aligns with national best-practice guidelines prescribed by leading researchers. At BoardPrep, a multi-disciplinary team of experts performs each assessment. BoardPrep offers all available levels of care, thus tailoring the treatment to the individual need.
BoardPrep’s drug addiction help includes treatment for other mental health problems. For instance, depression, anxiety, and trauma often play a big role in substance use disorders. Therefore, BoardPrep’s addiction psychiatrists continue to see patients at least weekly for the first month of day-night treatment. Also, treatment addresses family and environmental risk issues. A licensed and experienced therapist performs weekly webinars with the families and schedules family sessions as needed.
 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2018.