Objective: Buprenorphine, a medication for treating opioid dependence, is underutilized in specialty addiction treatment organizations. Only physicians who have obtained a buprenorphine prescribing license or "waiver" may administer this medication. A limited number of physicians are pursuing this waiver, and a concern in the substance use disorder treatment field is that the shortage of prescribers could be contributing to the low use of buprenorphine at specialty addiction treatment centers. The objective of this study is to assess Ohio specialty treatment organizations' access to buprenorphine prescribers and the barriers they encounter when seeking new physician prescribing capacity.
Methods: Forty-one Ohio specialty addiction treatment organizations were invited to complete a survey of their buprenorphine practices and availability of buprenorphine prescribers during August-October 2014. Data was collected on pharmacotherapies used in the treatment of opioid dependence, arrangements treatment organizations have with prescribing physicians, buprenorphine prescribing capacity, and barriers encountered in recruiting new physician prescribers.
Results: Thirty-seven treatment organizations responded, for a response rate of 90.2%. Seventy-eight percent (n=29) of the sample provided buprenorphine therapy. Of those treatment organizations, 48.3% (n=14) reported insufficient prescribing capacity. Of those, 50% (n=7) indicated they had to turn patients away from buprenorphine therapy due to limited physician prescribing capacity.
Conclusion: The study suggests that buprenorphine use is constrained by limited physician prescribing capacity, to the degree that 24.1% of the organizations surveyed using buprenorphine therapy had to turn patients away. Potential remedies include encouraging more specialty treatment organizations to have physicians on staff, removing the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA 2000) cap that limits physician buprenorphine caseloads at 100 patients (after year 1), and developing strategies to recruit physicians into addiction treatment practice. Additional research is needed to increase the knowledge of physician prescribing capacity as a barrier to buprenorphine use, how to overcome these barriers, and to understand the extent physician capacity shortages are affecting buprenorphine use.
Keywords: Addiction treatment organizations; Buprenorphine; Buprenorphine prescribing; DATA 2000; Health services research; Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT); Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) barriers.