Suboxone accessibility is limited in many states affected by the opioid epidemic, based on research from Harvard.

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities and entire states. Policymakers, doctors and families are looking for ways to reduce opioid deaths and help people dealing with opioid addiction and dependence. Medication-assisted treatment is one option that can help, but this type of treatment isn’t always readily available.

Suboxone is one medication used to treat opioid addiction and dependence. However, a recent study finds Suboxone treatment may not be accessible for many people. The Harvard Chan School of Public Health study found it can be difficult to find health care providers who can prescribe Suboxone treatment.

Researchers acted as patients in areas with high overdose rates, including Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio and the District of Columbia. The researchers called prescribers who reportedly offered Suboxone, but half of the prescribers said they were not accepting new Medicaid patients. Even when a provider was accepting Medicaid patients, wait times were long.

The Opioid Epidemic & Suboxone Treatment at a Glance

Suboxone is a brand-name prescription formulation of buprenorphine and naloxone, and it is approved to help treat opioid dependence. Buprenorphine is an opioid, and naloxone blocks the euphoric effects of opioids that can lead to abuse.

When someone takes Suboxone, it can help reduce the physical symptoms of opioid dependence. Suboxone comes as a film that taken under the tongue or dissolved inside the cheek. The buprenorphine then travels to the brain and attaches to opioid receptor sites. 

Suboxone and other medication-assisted treatment options are intended to be used along with counseling and behavioral therapy. Suboxone isn’t a treatment for opioid addiction, but it can help prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings while a person receives treatment for addiction. Studies often show better outcomes when medication-assisted treatment is paired with addiction treatment. Treatment with medication reduces the risk of relapse and can help prevent overdoses.

As an example, a study in Sweden looked at patients who took a 16 mg maintenance dose of buprenorphine each day. This group was compared to a control group that received buprenorphine for a six-day detox, followed by administration of a placebo. All study participants had psychosocial support. The treatment failure rate with the placebo was 100%, but the failure rate with buprenorphine was only 25%. Of the patients who didn’t stay in treatment, there was a mortality rate of 20%.

Suboxone treatment for opioid dependence requires a qualified doctor or health care professional to administer the treatment. For a care provider to be eligible, they have to take an 8-hour class about Suboxone and addiction treatment. Once a doctor receives their credentials to prescribe Suboxone, they can only treat a limited number of patients at one time.

Why the Shortage of Suboxone Treatment Programs?

According to the Harvard study, outpatient Suboxone treatment can be challenging to find. Though researchers found that most Suboxone treatment centers could take patients for new appointments in less than a week, it may be too long for people with addiction to wait. So why is Suboxone treatment protocol limited, especially in states that are heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic?

There are a few reasons, according to the lead study author, Dr. Michael Barnett. First, few doctors and nurses have gone through the training required to provide Suboxone. There is also a stigma that comes with treating patients who have an opioid or drug addiction, and it may be something providers aren’t willing to do. Also, many people who are looking for Suboxone treatment may have Medicaid. Medicaid payments are usually lower than what providers receive when a patient has private insurance.

Related Topic: Suboxone addiction treatment near me

Treatment Must Be Readily Accessible and Available

The National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines principles of effective addiction treatment. One of the major principles is that treatment needs to be readily available. This is because someone struggling with addiction may be unsure about going to treatment, so having services when they need them is essential. Someone might lose their willingness to receive treatment if it’s not highly accessible. Additionally, the earlier someone receives treatment in their disease, the higher the likelihood of positive outcomes.

There is a possibility that same-day Suboxone treatment availability or more accessible alternatives to Suboxone treatment could help reduce opioid deaths. People who struggle with opioid use would likely benefit from getting appointments more quickly and having more Suboxone maintenance treatment providers. Based on the research findings from Harvard, it could be something the medical industry and public policymakers look at.

If you are struggling with opioid abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that may work well for your situation. 

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more

Annals of Internal Medicine. “Access to Office-Based Buprenorphine Treatment In Areas with High Rates of Opioid-Related Mortality: An Audit Study.” July 2, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2019.

Brody, Sharon; Bebinger, Martha. “Patients Who Want to Use Suboxone for Ad[…]ing It, Study Finds.” WBUR, June 3, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” (n.d.). Accessed August 5, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder.” (n.d.). Accessed August 5, 2019.

Sheridan, Kate. “How effective is medication-assisted tre[…]ere’s the science.” STAT, May 15, 2017. Accessed August 5, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.