Medical professionals in Northern California are considering the Biden administration’s move to ease restrictions on the prescription of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid dependence, which some patients refer to as a “miracle” or “magic” drug. Buprenorphine is said to work with reducing opioid needs and withdrawal symptoms, which can help people avoid relapse. “It basically stabilizes your brain chemistry to the point where you do not experience withdrawal symptoms, so the withdrawal condition, the disease that opiate addicts feel, is usually the driving force to continue using,” explained Garrett Stenson, program director at Core Medical Clinic. “Normally, after six months to two years, you stop getting the right peak of it (opioids) and you use just to stay normal, so to speak,”
Medical professionals in Northern California are considering the Biden administration’s move to ease restrictions on the prescription of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, which some patients refer to as a “miracle” or “magic” drug.
Buprenorphine is said to work by reducing opioid needs and withdrawal symptoms, which can help people avoid relapse.
“It basically stabilizes your brain chemistry to the point where you do not experience withdrawal symptoms, so the withdrawal condition, the disease that opiate addicts feel, is usually the driving force to continue using,” explained Garrett Stenson, program director at Core Medical Clinic. “Normally, after six months to two years, you stop getting the real peak of it (opioids), and you use just to stay normal, to say the least,” he added.
“If you get relapse and use it, it actually blocks and covers the opiate receptor site and blocks it,” he said.
Under new practice guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, several health professionals, including nurses, paramedics and certified nursing mothers, are now exempt from completing a federal education requirement to prescribe the drug buprenorphine in up to 30 patients.
Stenson supports the changes.
“This will open up various treatment options for those individuals who were previously reluctant to access treatment because of this stigma problem that they can get it through their primary care physician,” he said.
A potential downside to increased access to buprenorphine includes people shopping it on the street for drugs, according to the program director.
“But usually when the drug is redirected on the street, it goes to the right people who are in withdrawal or trying to prevent opiate addiction,” he said.
The new guidelines do not make it mandatory for providers to offer consulting services after writing a prescription, which can also be a disadvantage, Stenson said.
“In a perfect world, we would all be involved in counseling and, and working through, the psychosocial behavioral issues that, you know, are a big and important piece of this,” he said.
KCRA 3 also spoke with Marlies Perez of the Department of Health Care Services, the agency responsible for the State Medication Assisted Treatment Program (MAT).
Perez said California in 2017 recognized the exploding opioid epidemic and launched the MAT expansion project to provide services to underserved communities and get treatment for as many people as possible – as quickly as possible.
“We have already increased and added over 650 new sites where individuals can get these services. With this funding alone, we have had over 32,000 people actually getting services and these are new people,” Perez said.
According to Perez, one of the biggest changes is taking place in prison systems.
“There are people who come through our prison systems who need medication-assisted treatment, and we have worked with over 32 counties. When they started the project with us, only maybe 5% of the individuals received the medication they needed. “Now we are already up to 35%,” said Perez.
Medication and behavioral health services to prevent relapse are paid for through Medi-Cal, and there is also help for the uninsured or underinsured.
“They can still receive medication and the other services,” Perez said.
In addition to MAT services, the state also provides the life-saving overdose drug Naloxone.
“We have distributed over 600,000 sets of this, it’s actually called Narcan, and today we already have over 31,000 reported opioid overdoses,” Perez said.
With the new relaxed guidelines, Perez says more institutions can step up to treat this disease and help people get the care they need.
“Buprenorphine – would you say it gives people their lives back?” KCRA 3s Brittany Johnson asked Dr. Veronica Velasquez-Morphine.
“Yes, it does many times. It really does,” replied Dr. Velasquez-Morfine, Chief Medical Officer of El Dorado Community Health Centers.
But Velasquez-Morphine said do not expect to see changes and increased access to buprenorphine overnight.
“I do not think it is necessarily like a finished deal,” Velasquez-Morfine said. “We need to have other entities that kind of catch up with this new law.”
Velasquez-Morfine said programs like the California Bridge Program, which expands addiction treatment through emergency departments, and people who can guide newer doctors about the various forms of addiction, are the key to making buprenorphine more accessible.
“This disease is presented in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of different combinations. Sometimes you are not only dealing with one drug, but it can be multiple drugs. So the approach to how to treat this patient will be different and it will be individualized and it’s really important to just be able to monitor patients often, ”she said.
The new guidelines follow the Trump administration’s efforts to ease restrictions on doctors in its declining days, which the Biden administration stopped for a reported review.
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