In an update tonight, the ripple effect of a new Tennessee law that aims to cut back the amount of buprenorphine (ex: Suboxone, Subutex) prescribed in the state – a drug intended to help wean people off opioid addiction.
One month ago, News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern revealed 3 of the nation’s top 10 prescribers of Suboxone to Medicare patients practice in Johnson City.
The “Addiction Treatment Act of 2015” hopes to slash high prescribing numbers and curb abuse. When News Channel 11 spoke with area buprenorphine doctors last month, those who prescribe Suboxone and/or Subutex, many said the high number of prescriptions written in this area is just another indicator of how crippling prescription drug abuse is here. And that Suboxone, when used correctly, is a way to treat the problem.
Some feel recent restrictions are fair.
Others, fear the side effects of laws clamping down the replacement drug.
Dr. Reach helped draft what was known as “Bella’s Law,” with former State Representative Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport) before it later morphed into the Addiction Treatment Act of 2015.
The addiction specialist says the legislation is a step in the right direction.
“This is going to significantly help patients get into rehab facilities and into treatment centers,” Dr. Reach said.
Dr. Charles Bomar Herrin, President of Recovery Associates Inc., has his doubts.
“The truth of it is, I think two a day is plenty. I just have some concerns that someone in a state legislator position is starting to say, ‘This is the dose you ought to use.’ Not because I disagree with them, I just think – we’re getting so many different mandates now. You’ve got a set of Kentucky rules, you’ve got a set of Tennessee rules, you’ve got a set of federal rules. You’re going to get crossways with some body, no matter how much you try to do the right thing. You just are,” Dr. Herrin said.
Rep. John Holsclaw, of Elizabethton, contributed to the unanimous vote in favor of the Addiction Treatment Act of 2015.
“We go through committees and subcommittees of hearings with doctors and professionals that present the case, so you have a good understanding of what needs to be done that’s best for everyone,” Holsclaw said.
Changes to the prescribing of buprenorphine products, more commonly known as Suboxone and/or Subutex include only prescribing the drug for use recognized by the FDA, which is addiction treatment.
“In the past, patients had been prescribed that for chronic pain management. That is now no longer allowed under Tennessee law,” Dr. Reach said. “So it will help bring over-prescribing under control.”
Another change – Subutex can only be used for nursing or pregnant women, or those who are allergic to Suboxone. This is because, though Subutex is considered the standard of care for addicted pregnant women, the drug has a much higher potential for abuse.
“It sells for triple the cost of Suboxone drugs on the street, because people use it to inject into their arms,” Dr. Reach said.
“Patients who are prescribed high doses of buprenorphine, which is considered more than 16 mg a day, will be required to refer those patients to an addiction specialist. Before they can take those higher medications,” Dr. Reach said.
News Channel 11 also spoke with a local pharmacy owner, who said since the law went into effect July 1st, he is “finally” seeing a conscious effort to reduce actual dosages.
But a negative side effect, the owner said, who declined to go on camera, is that Suboxone is harder to get – with more places refusing to fill prescriptions. So the pharmacy is having to turn away 2 to 3 dozen people each week.
The pharmacist said this creates a concern of where addicts will turn if they can’t get the medication legally.
The bill also creates protections for those who seek assistance from a first-time drug overdose.
For more details on the Addiction Treatment Act of 2015, click here.
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