A new study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that only one in five pharmacies will fill a prescription for the life-changing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) drug Suboxone. Suboxone is considered a gold standard treatment for opioid use disorder by the FDA. Just this morning, the Biden administration announced that they are decreasing barriers to prescribing the drug.
Sadly, research shows that although a doctor may prescribe Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, to a person in need, a pharmacy may block access during a critical time in their lives. Without access to MAT, many people will succumb to their opioid use disorder.
The Research on Suboxone and Pharmacies
The researchers did the study after learning, anecdotally, about patients having trouble filling prescriptions for Suboxone. “Buprenorphine is a vital, life-saving medication for people with opioid use disorder, but improving access has been a problem for a variety of reasons,” said senior author Daniel Hartung, Pharm.D., M.P.H., professor in the College of Pharmacy. “Although anecdotes and smaller studies have suggested problems, our study is the first to systematically characterize this barrier.”
The research yielded troubling results. Four researchers called 921 pharmacies around the U.S. over the months of in May and June in 2020. They focused on places where the overdoses have been creeping up during the pandemic. A total of 473 U.S. counties with high rates of opioid overdoses were called, and 183 – 20% of the total -said they wouldn’t fill prescriptions for Suboxone or buprenorphine. Pharmacies in the Southern U.S. states were most likely to block access to Suboxone.
More Education Needed
The lead author of the study, Neda Kazerouni, wants to raise awareness of the issue. Education can help people who need Medication-Assisted Treatment avoid relapse and achieve sobriety. But there is still a stigma surrounding drugs like Suboxone because people don’t always understand what they do. Often, people mistakenly believe that using Suboxone is the same as using opioids.
Education on Medication-Assisted Treatment can help communities save lives and ultimately give more opportunities for community members to seek recovery.