More doctors can prescribe a leading addiction treatment. Why aren’t more people getting help?

It’s easier than ever for doctors to prescribe a key opioid addiction drug since the U.S. government removed a hurdle last year. But despite the easing of restrictions and the continuation of overdose crisisa new study finds little change in the number of people taking the drug.

Researchers analyzed prescriptions filled by U.S. pharmacies for the therapeutic drug buprenorphine. The number of prescribers increased last year after doctors no longer needed to obtain a special waiver to prescribe the drug, while the number of patients filling their prescriptions barely changed.

It may take more than a year to see a larger increase in patients, said study co-author Dr. Kao-Ping Chua of the University of Michigan Medical School. .

“There are many other barriers to prescribing that we need to overcome,” Chua said.

The results were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Buprenorphine, which helps with food cravings, comes in pill or film form that dissolves under the tongue. It costs around $100 per month. A common version of buprenorphine is Suboxone. Nurse practitioners, physician assistants and doctors can prescribe it.

“People think it’s a very complex drug and requires complex knowledge to use, when that’s simply not the case,” said Dr. Ryan Marino of the faculty of Medicine from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who has treated hundreds of people. with buprenorphine. He played no role in the study.

Obstacles include insurance hurdles, price, pharmacies that don’t stock the drug and doctors who think drug patients are taking too long, Chua and other experts said.

“There is a lot of stigma about this drug, and in general about patients with opioid addiction,” Chua said.

Additionally, some people might not want to try buprenorphine, Chua said. They may think they can’t really recover if they use opioid medications, he said. And it can trigger withdrawal symptoms, particularly in people who have used fentanyl, the powerful opioid that now dominates the drug supply.

The researchers used a database that captures 92% of prescriptions filled. Comparing 2022 and 2023, before and after the waiver was removed, they found 53,600 prescribers at the end of 2023, an increase of 27% from a year earlier. The number of people filling their prescriptions increased by about 2% to about 845,000.

The government should look for ways to encourage or even require hospitals and health systems to provide more treatment, said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who not participated in the study.

More doctors are prescribing buprenorphine, but “it’s taking too long for most of the medical profession to catch up,” Saloner said.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Education Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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