The abuse of opioids has become a prevalent problem throughout the United States. In fact, many consider this form of substance abuse to be an epidemic, as it has caused devastation in the lives of countless individuals, and yet appears to be continuously growing in prevalence.
It has been estimated that 80 people die from overdoses on opioid-based substances, which includes prescription painkillers and heroin, every day in the United States. This is the equivalent to just under 29,000 deaths related to opioid overdoses each year. Astoundingly, the number of deaths that result from drug overdoses are now even higher than those that result from automobile accidents.
The state of this epidemic has prompted the U.S. government to take action in an attempt to combat the destructive nature of this problem.
In early July 2016, the government expanded access to drugs that are used to treat opioid abuse and addiction. One such drug is buprenorphine, which is a mixed partial opioid agonist medication that is used to help treat opioid addiction by reducing or eliminating the withdrawal symptoms that would typically arise when a person attempts to stop using these types of substances.
Additionally, buprenorphine can decrease cravings, block the effects of other opioids, and ultimately help individuals achieve success in overcoming their addictions. Individuals who do not have access to medications like buprenorphine are much more likely to experience relapses should they attempt to discontinue their use.
Previously, doctors were limited in the amount of individuals for whom they could prescribe buprenorphine, maxing out at 100 people per physician. With this new initiative, however, those doctors will be able to obtain a waiver that allows them to prescribe the medication for as many as 275 people. In order to receive this waiver, prescribing physicians must obtain additional credentialing from a medical board or professional society, while also practicing in a qualified treatment setting.
By increasing the cap on the amount of people for whom doctors can prescribe buprenorphine, more individuals will have access to evidence-based opioid addiction treatment that can ultimately mean the difference between life and death.
At the present time, it is estimated that fewer than 32,000 physicians have authorization to prescribe buprenorphine, and only 6,000 of them are actively writing these prescriptions. By increasing the ability that doctors have to prescribing this medication, which is also sold under the brand name Suboxone, the hope is that more physicians will actively expand their practices in order to be able to offer this important treatment intervention.
In addition to the increase in allowances for access to buprenorphine, President Barrack Obama has called for increased funding in the amount of $1.1 billion in order to provide individuals with the ability to receive treatment wherever they reside, further enhancing the likelihood that people will take advantage of the treatment available to them.
By taking these steps, the government is not only raising awareness of the opioid epidemic, but is also providing individuals who are trapped in the insidious pattern of abusing opioids with tangible means of overcoming their addictions.