Buprenorphine, a relative newcomer in the treatment of opioid addiction, is growing in popularity among California doctors as regulatory changes, physician training and other initiatives make the medication more widely accessible.
The rate of Medi-Cal enrollees who received buprenorphine nearly quadrupled from the end of 2014 to the third quarter of 2018, according to data released by Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. The rate for methadone — an older and more commonly used drug — was almost unchanged from the end of 2014 through the last quarter of 2017, the most recent period for which data are available.
Buprenorphine and methadone are both opioids. Both reduce cravings for heroin and synthetic opioids while minimizing withdrawal symptoms. But buprenorphine is less potent and less likely to result in fatal overdoses than methadone. California doctors have more flexibility in prescribing it than with methadone or naltrexone, another medication used to treat addiction.
The Food and Drug Administration approved buprenorphine for treating opioid dependency in 2002. In 2015, Medi-Cal eliminated a rule requiring doctors to get prior authorization for each patient. That requirement was an additional barrier for many physicians who had to first obtain a federal waiver to treat patients with the medication — a process that requires eight hours of training.
The waiver is still required. But since 2017, the state’s California Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Expansion Project has helped train doctors who wish to obtain it.
Read full report by Harriet Blair Rowan, CA Healthine