Researchers say that while buprenorphine continues to be underused for opioid abuse treatment, encouraging doctors to take on more patients could help to further pull back abuse of the drugs nationwide.
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June 1 (UPI) -- Researchers have released new data suggesting doctors are underutilizing buprenorphine as a means to treat opioid abuse.
A RAND Corporation study published Tuesday in JAMA found that during 2016 and 2017 just over half of all buprenorphine drug treatments in the country were prescribed by only five percent of doctors.
"These findings have important implications for efforts to increase buprenorphine access," lead author Dr. Bradley D. Stein, a senior physician researcher at RAND, said in a press release.
"Our study suggests that targeted efforts to encourage more current prescribers to become high-volume prescribers, and encourage existing high-volume subscribers to safely and effectively treat even more patients, may be a potent way to increase buprenorphine treatment capacity," Stein said.
The drug, which is a narcotic, was approved for use in 2002.
Buprenorphine helps opioid abuse patients manage their illness and refrain from using the drugs illegally by staving off withdrawal symptoms.
While the traditional way of treating these patients is with methadone in hospitals, buprenorphine is available everywhere. However, only one in ten doctors has access to prescribe the medication.
The Mayo Clinic recently said buprenorphine is a proven drug that is "underused."
RAND researchers compiled IQVIA prescription data, which includes data on about 90 percent of all prescriptions filled in U.S. retail pharmacies, to identify drug prescribers from January 2017 to December 2018.
Researchers found on average the most productive providers were still far under their limits of the number of patients they are allowed treat at a time buprenorphine.
Stein said the emphasis should be on increasing the number of patients for those healthcare providers willing and able to prescribe the drug.
"Given that a relatively low number of providers account for most of the buprenorphine prescribing, providing targeted support to those willing to safely treat more patients may be a more promising strategy to increase medication treatment among people struggling with opioid addiction than primarily focusing on increasing the number of new prescribers," Stein said.
The Biden administration earlier this year passed new federal guidelines to open up buprenorphine access based on its success with patients.