The opioid crisis is an ongoing issue in the US. The results of a new study have found there aren’t enough physicians authorized to provide MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment), the leading option for dealing with opioid addiction.
The shortfall continues to be an issue, even though the number of doctors approved to administer buprenorphine, a medication approved to treat opioid addiction, has increased notably over the past 10 years.
Few Doctors Allowed to Administer Opioid Treatment Medication
At present, less than 10% of doctors hold the federal waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine. This drug is easier to access and more effective than methadone, which is also used to treat opioid addiction, according to Ryan McBain, a policy researcher at the RAND Group and the study author.
This figure is accurate even though the number of buprenorphine prescribers rose fourfold during the period between 2007-2017. Currently, 56,000 doctors have the necessary credentials to prescribe the medication.
McBain stated that the increase in doctors authorized to prescribe buprenorphine was “huge,” and it was an exciting development. He also pointed out that there are more than 600,000 primary care physicians in the US and that more than 90% are still unable to provide this treatment to their patients.
In the meantime, the number of opioid overdose deaths jumped from 16,500 in 2007 to 46,000 in 2017.
Waiver Required to Prescribe Buprenorphine
To prescribe buprenorphine, doctors must apply for a waiver from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This requirement has been in place since 2002.
This has become the preferred method for treating opioid use disorder in the US. It works by connecting to pain receptors in the brain. This medication is different from other medications like methadone, in that it has a “ceiling effect.” Even if a patient takes a higher dose of the drug, they don’t get more effects from it.
The data showed one piece of good news. Providers are more likely to acquired one of these waivers in communities where opioid overdose rates are higher. The areas which saw the highest levels of opioid overdose deaths saw a fivefold increase in doctors with waivers over the 10 years, as opposed to counties with the lowest overdose rates.