One barrier to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment was cleared this week when the Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to exempt most clinicians from training requirements for prescribing buprenorphine.
Another hurdle remains, however: A study by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy found that 1 in 5 pharmacies refuse to dispense Suboxone, the medication that combines buprenorphine and naloxone for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Findings from the study were published this week in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Researchers called 921 pharmacies (467 chain pharmacies, 454 independent) across the country in May and June 2020, with a particular focus on 473 counties with high rates of opioid-involved overdoses. Of the pharmacies contacted, 20% said they would not dispense buprenorphine, with independent pharmacies and those in the South being the most likely to restrict access.
“If I see a patient and they want to get started on buprenorphine, they've already gone through a lot of processing to make that behavior change,” study co-author Ximena A. Levander, MD, MCR, a clinical instructor in general internal medicine and geriatrics in the OHSU School of Medicine, said in a news release announcing the findings.
“Any barrier can be very disruptive, especially when initiating treatment because they're at high risk to return to use.”