Limited access to addiction treatment pushes patients to Suboxone black market

Many patients unable to obtain the anti-addiction drug Suboxone due to strict federal requirements are turning toward illicit means to secure the medication, which helps curb opioid withdrawal symptoms, according to NPR.

Here are five things to know:

1. Suboxone,a name brand version of buprenorphine, is one of three federally approved medications to treat opioid use disorder. Physicians must becertified to prescribe the medicine and face a cap on the number of patients they can prescribe the drug to. Suboxone is also an opioid, meaning there is a risk it can be misused.

2. When patients can't get the drug to help with their withdrawal symptoms via legal means, they often turn to Suboxone "black markets," according to NPR. While Suboxone can be misused, many patients use the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms and help them stay away from other illicit opioids.

3. Many addiction treatment professionals argue buprenorphine diversion is misunderstood issue.

"It was not diverted buprenorphine that's responsible for our current situation," Zev, Schuman-Olivier, MD, addiction specialist and instructor at Boston-based Harvard Medical School, told NPR. "The majority of people are using it in a way that reduces their risk of overdose."

4. Basi Andraka-Christou, PhD, assistant professor and addiction policy researcher at Orlando-based University of Central Florida, told NPR increasing regulations or shutting down prescribers limits treatment options for people with OUD.

"I guarantee you, [patients will] either going to go and buy heroin and get high — which surely is not a great policy solution here — or they're going to go buy Suboxone on the street," Dr. Andraka-Christou told NPR.

5. Kelly Clark, MD, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, supports increasing access to buprenorphine. She said the benefits of making the drug widely availablewould outweigh the risk of patient overdoses.

"The risks of overdose with buprenorphine are minimal," Dr. Clark told NPR, since the drug is a weak opioid.

6. The new opioid bill awaiting President Donald Trump's signature would allow nurses to prescribe buprenorphine and give certified physicians the ability to treat more patients.

More articles on opioids: 

3 ways to help opioid use disorder patients access specialized treatment

Scripps ER physician Dr. Roneet Lev: How hospitals are 'missing the boat' when it comes to the opioid epidemic

Senate passes final opioids bill: 5 things to know

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