Despite the stringent federal requirements clinicians must meet to become waivered providers of buprenorphine, only about half of those eligible to prescribe the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) drug actually do so.
That’s according to a new study conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts in collaboration with Deerfield Management Co. and Rand Corp. The findings were published on JAMA Open Network.
For the study, researchers looked at data from April 2017 to January 2019. During that time, they found that only 50.9% of the nearly 56,000 eligible clinicians wrote at least one buprenorphine prescription.
On top of that, active prescribers came nowhere near meeting their allotted prescription capacity.
For example, clinicians allowed to prescribe buprenorphine for up to 30 patients only treated 11.3% of that number, the study found. Meanwhile, providers eligible to treat 100 patients served 23.9% of their capacity, and prescribers waivered for 275 patients treated only 36.9%.
The lack of prescriptions isn’t due to lack of need. In 2019, more than 70,000 American suffered lethal overdoses, with opioids being the biggest killer. Meanwhile, MAT is the gold standard for opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment, and buprenorphine has proven to be a successful medication for the treatment.
Instead, the authors of the study suggest strict DEA oversight, poor reimbursement and lack of support are to blame for that findings. In an article published by Pew, they stressed the need for change.
“The limited use of this medication highlights the need for federal legislation to make it easier for clinicians to prescribe buprenorphine for people with OUD,” they wrote. “Currently, clinicians must adhere to training and licensing rules that are not required for any other prescription drug. Congress should pass the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (MAT Act), which has bipartisan support, as soon as possible.
The MAT Act would eliminate rigid requirements and patient caps for buprenorphine prescribers. It would allow buprenorphine to be treated like other any other medication, rather than as a more risky drug.
“Policymakers and providers have additional work to do to expand access to evidence-based treatments for addiction, including ensuring that reimbursement for buprenorphine treatment is adequate, and that providers have appropriate clinical support to manage patients with OUD,” the authors wrote in the Pew article. “But passing the MAT Act would represent an important step in helping to destigmatize OUD treatment, expand the pool of potential prescribers, and encourage existing prescribers to take on more patients, all of which would help to increase access to lifesaving care.”