Shortage of Treatment Providers For Opioid Addiction Remains Issue For Many States

By Beth Leipholtz 02/28/18

Experts say one possible solution to the shortage is allowing more nurses and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine. 

doctor prescribing patient medicine

Eleven states in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, as well as the District of Columbia, are short on the amount of doctors needed to address the opioid epidemic, according to a new study from Avalere Health, a health policy consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. 

The states, which include Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as D.C., lack providers who can prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to prevent relapse in those struggling with opioid misuse. 

The analysis found that the 11 states and D.C. had lower-than-average rates of doctors prescribing buprenorphine in comparison to opioid overdose deaths.

“The number of opioid overdose deaths is one way to measure rates of abuse in a state, which may signal a need for more providers who are able to prescribe addiction treatments,” stated a media release from Avalere. “On average, there are 1.6 opioid overdoses per buprenorphine prescriber nationwide.”

Avalere’s media release states that medication-assisted treatment (MAT), including buprenorphine, is considered one of the best ways to treat substance use disorder. 

“Addiction experts point to expanding access to Food and Drug Administration-approved MAT as integral to fighting the nation’s opioid crisis,” the release reads. “Additionally, a recent survey of addiction experts found that they would devote the most resources to treatment options, especially MAT, to address the ongoing opioid crisis.” 

One possible solution to this shortage is allowing more nurses and physician assistants to prescribe the medication. 

“For individuals who are struggling with opioid dependence, buprenorphine can be a critical step in their road to recovery,” Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere, said in a media release. “Extending prescribing privileges to nurse practitioners and physician assistants can facilitate access to this evidence-based treatment.”

Current law states that nurse practitioners and physician assistants may seek a federal waiver to prescribe buprenorphine. However, they may only treat up to 30 patients annually. 

“Although more providers are now able to prescribe buprenorphine, there appears to be a shortage of prescribers in many states,” Clara Soh, a director at Avalere, stated in the media release. “Evaluating ways to narrow this gap, including bringing state scope-of-practice laws into alignment with federal regulations, would enable policymakers to achieve their goal to expand access.”

The analysis also found that an additional nine states, including Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah, were found to have lower rates of prescribers per overdose than the national average.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.