A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Finding a Suboxone Clinic

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A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Finding a Suboxone Clinic

By Tessa Torgeson 09/17/18

It took me 10 hours of phone calls, 20 voicemails, 3 chewed fingernails, and many packs of cigarettes before I found a Suboxone provider in my new town. This is the list I wish I had then.

Image: 
Woman talking on phone and looking at computer screen.
Including a sample phone script for calling providers.

When I pulled a “geographic” a few years ago, leaving Portland for my home state of North Dakota, I underestimated the stress of starting over. In fact, stress isn’t a strong enough word to describe driving 1,300 miles with my recent ex-boyfriend in the passenger seat and the fear of restarting life without heroin; not to mention I had no full-time job prospect, no health insurance, no apartment, and very few of my possessions. I also had a unique fear that loomed over me like an ominous storm cloud: trying to find a new Suboxone* provider in a rural state. 

It took me almost ten hours of phone calls, twenty voicemails, ten games of phone tag, three chewed fingernails, and many packs of cigarettes to find a clinic that would dispense the medicine I take to maintain my recovery. 

Unfortunately, my situation is a common one. Despite our nation being in the throes of an opioid epidemic, finding a Suboxone provider is a widespread problem; only about one-third of addiction rehabilitation programs offer long-term use of methadone or buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone). And according to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT), only about half of all Suboxone providers are accepting new patients.

Finding this life-saving medication shouldn’t be so hard. When you are committed to getting better, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll be able to find a clinic to dispense your medicine. A person with diabetes wouldn’t have to search hard to find insulin. So I’ve compiled a round-up of tips and suggestions. 

This is the list I wish I'd had in early recovery:

1. Find friends and family who are supportive of your Suboxone journey.

2. Remember that your form of treatment is just as valid as all other types of treatment and recovery.

Although Suboxone is a widely stigmatized and divisive medication in the recovery community, it has been shown to reduce opioid overdose death rates by 40 percent.

3. Join online support groups and forums for people on Suboxone.

Since I lived in a rural area, I couldn’t find any in person groups. So I joined secret social media Suboxone support groups on Facebook, recovery Reddit threads, and peer-support forums such as the Addiction Survivors website and Suboxone Talk Zone.

4. Allow Plenty of Time to Research, Call, and Locate Providers.

This was the most daunting and lengthy part of finding a new provider. Dr. Bruce Seligsohn has been a board-certified internist in Southern California for 30 years and practicing addiction medicine for 10 years. Dr. Seligsohn advises: “Patients really need to be very careful selecting a doctor if they have a choice. I would suggest that a patient looking for a new doctor do their due diligence and see what comes up online about the doctor.”

I have compiled the most current resources available as of August 2018. See the sidebar for a sample phone script for calling providers.  

Pros: Convenience, ease of navigation. You will be able to easily search for a provider based upon zip code, state, and the distance that you’re able to travel for a clinic.

Cons: Out of date, inaccurate, not comprehensive. Be prepared for hours of phone calls depending on your location and financial situation. Not all providers are listed on the site. I also found that some of the clinics listed were not accepting new patients, had been closed, or had their numbers disconnected.

Pros: Ease of navigation, instant results. Similar to the Suboxone manufacturer's website, this is a good launching point for starting your search based upon zip code, state, and the distance that you’re able to travel. 

Cons:  Not comprehensive and despite being a government resource, it is not up-to-date.

Pros: Easy to use, more accurate. Treatment Match only connects you with providers in your area who are accepting new patients, reducing dead ends and calls to providers who aren’t accepting new patients or insurance. 

Cons: Wait time/ lack of timeliness, not as many provider connections. This is not a straightforward directory and while it’s easy to sign up, you have to wait for a provider to respond to your email. The site claims that doctors respond 24/7, including weekends and holidays, but I only heard from them during normal business hours.

  • Yelp Reviews of Clinics

Pros: Hearing directly from other patients about their experiences, easy to use, instantaneous, accessible.

Cons: Questionable trustworthiness. Dr Seligsohn said: “Patient reviews can sometimes be very misleading.”

  • Calling Your Insurance Company

Note: Insurance companies vary widely, so I can only speak from my experience. For example, in Oregon I was easily able to locate a Suboxone provider through my insurance company, but my North Dakota insurance did not provide referrals. They stated that their preferred addiction treatment was therapy and 12-step based treatment programs rather than medication.  

Pros: Possible thorough list of doctors certified to prescribe Suboxone. Those Suboxone providers who accept your insurance are required to keep their information listed and up-to-date.

Cons: Time-consuming and you have to deal with the hurdles of bureaucracy. Plus, some studies have found that only about 50% of eligible Suboxone doctors accept insurance. Some insurance companies like mine will allow you to submit an appeal asking them to cover part of your Suboxone visit or prescription, especially in rural areas. I saved all of my receipts and had my psychiatrist and Suboxone doctors write letters of support. After months of appeals, the insurance company agreed to cover part of each appointment. Each month I sent in a claim and receipt, and then I received a reimbursement check about a month later. 

  • Asking for a referral from your primary care provider, psychiatrist, or hospital.

Another note: This is also difficult to give specific advice on because they vary depending according to location and providers, among many other factors.

Pros: In-person support and assistance, more direct medical guidance and advice. 

Cons: Stigma, lack of education about Suboxone, judgement, lack of timeliness. 

5. Be Persistent!  

6. Moving? Set Up an Appointment Months in Advance.

Dr. Seligsohn advises finding a doctor and setting up an appointment prior to moving. “Patients need to find out as much information about how their perspective new doctor runs his practice...They also need to find out what the doctor’s philosophy is about long-term vs short-term Suboxone. If I was a patient I’d be reluctant to move to an area where there’s a shortage of Suboxone doctors.”



Sidebar: Sample Phone Script for Calling Suboxone Providers

I remember being so nervous, overwhelmed, and frustrated while also dealing with the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Make sure you set aside a few hours for making calls in a quiet, safe place. I know some of these tips might seem like common sense, but when you’re in crisis and everything feels overwhelming, it can be a relief to have a guide.

1. Introduce yourself and tell them that you’re looking for a suboxone provider.

2. Where are you located?

3. Are you accepting new patients?

  • If yes- when is your earliest available appointment?
  • If no- don't hang up just yet! Ask: do you have a waiting list? Can you give me an estimate for how long it would take me to get an appointment? 
  • Do you have a cancellation list and if so, can you please add me to it?

4. How often do I need to come to the clinic or office? 

  • Most clinics and offices require monthly or bi-monthly visits, but some require daily visits and dispense suboxone in a similar manner to methadone.

4. Do you accept my insurance? 

5. If the clinic does not accept insurance, how much does each appointment cost?

  • How much does the intake appointment/ first visit cost? This is an important question to ask because initial intake appointments can cost anywhere from $100 - $200 more than a regular visit.
  • Some clinics require pre-payment to reserve your appointment and prevent cancellation. Do you require a down payment before the appointment?
  • What forms of payment do you accept? (cash, credit, check?) Note that most clinics do not accept checks.
  • Do you allow payment plans or is payment due on the day of the appointment? A majority of clinics will not allow patients to do a payment plan and payment is due on the day of the appointment.
  • Are there any additional costs or required fees? Some charge additional fees for mandatory counseling, drug screens, etc.

6. What are the counseling requirements?

  • You may be required to do weekly or monthly therapy groups with others at the clinic, and/or meet with an addiction counselor. This varies depending on how long you’ve been clean and your insurance coverage. (For example, one of my previous clinics had no counseling requirement, but my new clinic requires me to meet with an addiction counselor for one hour each month. Other clinics require weekly or bi-monthly group support meetings.)


Quick Resource List:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)’s Buprenorphine Treatment Practitioner Locator

Suboxone Website’s Treatment Provider Directory

Buprenorphine Matching System on Treatment Match on The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT)

Addiction Survivors

Suboxone Talk Zone

 

*(Writer’s Note: Suboxone is the most common brand-name buprenorphine medication, but this article is also applicable for patients seeking any form of buprenorphine treatment including: Subutex, Zubsolv, Bunavail, and Probuphine).  


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Tessa Torgeson is a collector of bad habits aka addictions, polka-dot stuff, and general awkwardness in Minnesota. Embracing alternative recovery, she is currently writing a memoir about addiction and recovery from a non-traditional, harm reduction perspective. If you want to hop on the feelings train, follow her on twitter @tessa_tito and read more of her writing at www.tessatorgeson.com.

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