Shortage of Opioid Treatment in Vermont Mirrors National Problem

Shortage of Opioid Treatment in Vermont Mirrors National Problem

Almost 500 people in Vermont are on waiting lists to receive medication to treat their opioid dependence, Stateline reports.

More than half will wait almost a full year.

Vermont has 248 doctors licensed to prescribe buprenorphine, the article notes. Most treat only their existing patients who have opioid dependence.

Last month, Stateline reported that despite the rising rate of addiction to opioids, a relatively small number of doctors nationwide are authorized and willing to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction.

Fewer than 32,000 doctors are authorized to prescribe the treatment, and most doctors with a license to prescribe buprenorphine seldom, if ever, use it. In contrast, more than 900,000 U.S. doctors can write prescriptions for painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.

Studies have found that opioid addiction medicines like buprenorphine, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, offer a much higher chance of recovery than treatments not involving medication, according to Stateline.

Under federal law, doctors prescribing buprenorphine must have a special license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They undergo eight hours of training, and can only prescribe buprenorphine to 30 patients in the first year. After that, the patient limit goes up to 100. This limit was established to prevent doctors from setting up “pill mills” to prescribe buprenorphine for a fee without ensuring patients are using the pills for recovery.

In September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it will remove some obstacles that limit the ability of doctors to prescribe buprenorphine.

The HHS will develop revisions to the regulations “to provide a balance between expanding the supply of this important treatment, encouraging the use of evidence-based [medication-assisted treatment], and minimizing the risk of drug diversion,” the department said.

Earlier this month, President Obama proposed $1.1 billion to expand the availability of buprenorphine and other opioid-addiction medications.

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