Senators Push White House for Greater Suboxone Access

By John Lavitt 08/14/15

Ohio's Sherrod Brown is pushing the Obama administration to grant greater access to addiction medication.

Sen. Sherrod Brown
Sen. Sherrod Brown Photo via

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is leading a push by Senate lawmakers to provide greater access to buprenorphine or Suboxone, the drug’s chief formulation. The bipartisan group is urging the Obama administration to lift federal limits on a doctor’s ability to prescribe Suboxone.

Although the opioid addiction treatment medication has been proven to be effective, it remains highly restricted. Buprenorphine works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain and minimizing withdrawal symptoms.

With his home state in the grip of the heroin epidemic that is raging across the country, Senator Brown has cosponsored legislation to lift the caps and allow trained and licensed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer buprenorphine, particularly in the Suboxone formulation. Known as medication-assisted therapy, or MAT, the legislation has yet to find widespread support.

Under current law, physicians can legally prescribe opioid addiction medications in their offices if they secure a special waiver. A serious issue is that the doctors are limited to treating 30 patients during their first year and 100 patients annually after that. The lack of support has proven frustrating to the senators trying to address the crisis at hand.

In a statement released to the press, Senator Brown explained, “We’ve got a problem when it’s easier for Americans to get drugs than it is for them to get help to break their addiction. By ensuring that more health professionals can treat prescription drug abuse through proven medication-assisted therapy, we can save lives and strengthen our communities.”

Supporters say lifting limits on the medication would dramatically cut waiting lists for treatment. The congressional group’s overall goal is to address the public health and law enforcement crisis that has been brought on by the heroin scourge.

The problem is that some doctors fear such a move would undermine the quality of treatment for addicts. Such naysayers claim greater access to Suboxone would increase street access to another powerful drug with potential for misuse.

Senator Brown and 12 other colleagues are now urging Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to act immediately. In an Aug. 7 letter, the lawmakers said the caps are arbitrary and are preventing doctors from treating addicts who want to stop using opioids.

A spokeswoman for HHS responded in a limited way to the request, saying only, “this is an issue we take seriously and we will respond directly to the senators.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.