Increasing Short- and Long-Term Buprenorphine Treatment Capacity: Providing Waiver Training for Medical Students

Acad Med. 2021 Feb 2. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003968. Online ahead of print.


In the face of an ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, persistent treatment gaps exist for vulnerable populations. Among the 3 Food and Drug Administration-approved medications used to treat opioid use disorder, many patients prefer buprenorphine. But physicians are currently required to register with the Drug Enforcement Administration and complete 8 hours of qualifying training before they can receive a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine to their patients. In this article, the authors summarize the evolution of buprenorphine waiver training in undergraduate medical education and outline 2 potential paths to increase buprenorphine treatment capacity going forward: the curriculum change approach and the training module approach. As part of the 2018 Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has provided funding for medical schools to adapt their curricula to meet waiver-training requirements. To date, however, only one school has had its curriculum approved for this purpose. Additionally, recent political efforts have been directed at eliminating aspects of the waiver training requirement and creating a more direct path to integrating waiver qualification into undergraduate medical education. Other medical schools have adopted a more pragmatic approach involving the integration of existing online, in-person, and hybrid waiver-qualifying training modules into the curricula, generally for fourth-year students. This training module approach can be more rapidly, broadly, and cost-effectively implemented than the curriculum change approach. It can also be easily integrated into the online medical curricula that schools developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately both curricular changes and support for student completion of existing training modules should be pursued in concert, but focus should not be single-mindedly on the former at the expense of the latter.