The White House has announced plans to more than double the number of patients to whom one doctor can simultaneously prescribe the anti-overdose drug buprenorphine. Better known by its trade names, Suboxone® and Subutex®, buprenorphine treats withdrawal symptoms from opioids and alcohol and has been a remarkably effective treatment resource for eligible patients. The move is the latest in a series of measures by the administration to compel Congress to fully fund its opioid addiction prevention initiative. There are a series of bi-partisan bills aimed at curtailing opioid abuse in the United States; however, they are, as of right now, unfunded.
Under current law, doctors can prescribe buprenorphine to 100 patients at once. The new measure would increase that number to 275. Doctors would have to apply to raise the patient-cap within their practices. Proponents say that the current figure of 100 limits access in a time when so many Americans need every opioid addiction treatment resource that is available. Opponents are worried about that diversion potential that, however small, has been a reality among Suboxone patients. While it hasn’t been as big of a problem as with its predecessor methadone, buprenorphine has caused some patients to wind up replacing one addiction with another.
While it’s a step in the right direction, and democrats and republicans say they’re committed to this issue in equal measure, funding continues to be a sticking point in the addiction care conversation. Members from both parties in both houses are scheduled to meet to solidify a comprehensive legislative package dealing with American drug abuse; however, democrats want an immediate commitment from Congress of $920 million to fund some of the programs. Raising the buprenorphine patient-cap can be a significant step forward in helping millions of opioid addicts who have been relegated to waiting lists receive this vital care resource.