DEA takes hard stance on pharmacies administering buprenorphine

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The Drug Enforcement Administration's approach to buprenorphine regulation is exacerbating the opioid epidemic by unnecessarily discouraging  pharmacies from dispensing the drug, pharmacists and harm reduction experts told NPR on Nov. 8.

Buprenorphine, sold under the brand names Subutex and Suboxone, treats opioid addiction. It is itself an opioid and can be misused, which is why the DEA limits its diversion to the streets. 

Research shows buprenorphine reduces the risk of overdose by 50 percent and doubles patients' likelihood of long-term recovery. However, a recent study found that 1 in 5 U.S. pharmacies do not provide the drug.

The DEA does not have a threshold for the drug, but it requires wholesalers to flag suspicious orders by creating detection algorithms. Studies in North Carolina and Kentucky found that many pharmacists worry that ordering enough buprenorphine to fit their communities' needs will lead to a DEA investigation.

"Pharmacies are terrified they're going to lose their DEA registration and go out of business," Charles "Buck" Selby, a former inspector and chief compliance officer for the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, told NPR.

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