NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. (WFXR) — In its final days, the Trump administration made a move in medical policy that makes it easier for doctors to prescribe the drug buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat patients with opioid addictions.
The policy signed by former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, does away with the requirement that physicians with a DEA registration number have to apply for a separate waiver to prescribe buprenorphine.
“It covers you from going through withdrawal for a full 24 or more hours, that allows you to start reconstructing your life, that has a minimal pharmacological effect on your consciousness. That’s a win-win,” described Dr. Warren Bickel, Director of the Addiction Recovery Research Center at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Institute.
Bickel, while acknowledging additional access to treatment is a good thing, says he’s concerned about this new policy because even buprenorphine can be abused if not administered properly, and the guidelines that were in place ensured doctors would know about the ins and outs of the drug.
“I’m just concerned about, you know, the balance of training versus the access and making sure that buprenorphine is given in a way that facilitates recovery and health and doesn’t, in any way or in a very limited way, support any other addictions.”
Doctors who are familiar with the drug are excited about this new policy.
“If there are more ways for people to get help, that’s less likelihood that that person dies from opioid addiction, less likelihood for their family to be devastated by opioid addiction,” said Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, an addiction psychiatrist.
Wilson works with New River Valley Community Services and has been prescribing the drug Suboxone, which contains buprenorphine, to patients for over 20 years.
“If you use oxycodone over the right dose of Suboxone, it won’t have any effect,” Wilson said. “If you use heroin, it won’t have any effect. That’s what protects that person with addiction from overdose and death.”
When asked, both doctors say the training and registration weren’t the only reasons for many physicians not being able to prescribe products containing buprenorphine.
Both say it’s the stigma surrounding opioids that play a role in there not being more doctors willing to write the prescriptions.
“I could perfectly imagine that some family practice doctors are not keen on treating people with opioid dependence,” Bickel said. “They don’t want them coming into the office; they don’t want them in the same room. I think that’s a mistake.”
“Some physicians and primary care providers will be uncomfortable with it,” Wilson added. “In time, you know, hopefully, that (buprenorphine) will be another doorway for people to get help without feeling so bad about it.”
Indeed, time will tell.
Both Bickel and Wilson are anxious to see where this new policy takes the country in its fight against opioids.
The hope is obviously for doctors to utilize this new tool and educate themselves in order to help those struggling with opioid addiction.