Sen. Chris Murphy Urges Improved Buprenorphine Access for Opioid Addicts
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) on Wednesday urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “take all necessary steps” to ensure that heroin and opioid addicts get improved access to buprenorphine, an effective treatment option that has saved lives.
In a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Murphy called on officials to improve the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Buprenorphine Treatment Physician Locator, the nation’s only comprehensive list of physicians authorized to treat opioid dependency with the prescription medication commonly known by its brand name Suboxone.
“Connecticut continues to be ravaged by opioid addiction,” wrote Murphy, citing 415 heroin overdose deaths in his state last year, a 27 percent increase from 2014. “One of the most critical steps we can take to stem this scourge is to ensure greater access to medication-assisted treatment, such as buprenorphine. “However, current law limits which physicians can prescribe buprenorphine for opioid dependency and caps the number of patients that a physician can prescribe buprenorphine for.”
“These policies—which are well-intentioned in their goal of limiting the likelihood of diversion for these powerful drugs—present a barrier to individuals seeking medication-assisted treatment, a barrier often exacerbated by the difficulty in finding physicians who are certified to prescribe, actively prescribing buprenorphine, and accepting new patients,” Murphy added.
The 42-year-old first-term senator cited a recent WTNH investigation which found the SAMHSA list outdated and lacking critical information for addicts seeking treatment. Some addicts reportedly traveled 12 hours to procure the potentially life-saving medicine.
“After calling each of the doctors listed for Connecticut, investigators found that only 30 percent of the listed doctors are currently treating patients with opiate addiction with a type of buprenorphine, and only 60 percent of those physicians had capacity for new patients,” wrote Murphy.
“What we know is we don’t have enough capacity right now when it comes to physicians able to prescribe Suboxone, and that’s compounded by this list,” the senator told WTNH. Murphy told the station that he believes he can help fix the problem.
“The reason this list is out-of-date is you’ve got SAMSHA over here, and you’ve got the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] over here, and they’re not talking to each other,” he said. “Now, hopefully, I can do some work over the course of the next few months to solve that problem.”
“If we need legislation, I’m going to introduce legislation to get this problem fixed,” promised Murphy.
Buprenorphine, released in 2002, works by curbing the cravings that compel opioid addicts to chase their next fix. It also blocks the high caused by such drugs in the event of a relapse.
“Suboxone saved my life,” wrote one former addict on Sober Mommies. “It’s not about the pill. It’s about everything else I get to do because of that pill. It’s about the choices I can make today because I’m not dead. I know Suboxone is not a cure. There is no cure for addiction. But I am alive because I haven’t relapsed… . I get to dream. I get to hope. I get to have peace and faith. I get to feel even when I hate it. And I love every second of every minute of all of it, because I am alive.”