treating addiction

Lack of Doctors a Barrier to Dealing with Opioid Crisis Effectively

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.


About Blake Nichols

Blake Nichols is the Director of Operations at Desert Cove Recovery. Blake battled his own addiction to drugs and alcohol and was given the gift of recovery at the age of 23. Since 2008, Blake has dedicated his life and career to the field of addiction. He has experience in all aspects of addiction treatment including direct care, admissions, marketing, and administration.
Blake feels that the greatest reward of working in the recovery field is being part of the transformation that a person goes through from the time they arrive and begin treatment, through the hard work and the Miracle of recovery, and ultimately the change into a confident and capable person ready to carry the message of recovery.
"My career has focused on serving others. I have accepted ownership of my responsibilities as that is the key to working at the highest level of professionalism. I have worked to be positive and offer solution-based suggestions in my work and personal life."