Kentucky Underutilizes Buprenorphine

Although Eastern Kentucky has one of the nation’s highest rates of prescription painkiller addiction, few in the state are using burprenorphine as treatment, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported June 5.

Traditionally, methadone has been used to treat individuals addicted to heroin and other narcotics. However, the FDA has approved buprenorphine (sold as Suboxone or Subutex) as an alternative because it is less likely to be misused and can be dispensed in a doctor’s office.

But Eastern Kentucky hospitals, clinics, and primary-care doctors are still unfamiliar with the drug treatment. Lois Baker, chief executive officer at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. in Whitesburg, said buprenorphine has been underutilized because family doctors think the drug is only for use in detoxification centers and residential treatment facilities.

“However, if it is something that can be used in a primary-care facility, then I certainly would be interested in taking a closer look at it,” Baker said.

Cathy Stout, director of treatment and education with Unlawful Narcotics Investigation, Treatment and Education (UNITE) in Somerset, said there are no immediate plans by the organization to encourage the medical community to prescribe buprenorpine. “So far we’re not an advocate for that type of treatment,” she said.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 4,000 doctors nationwide have completed the certification requirements to use buprenorphine. In Kentucky, only 12 providers are certified.

“Buprenorphine alone is not a silver bullet for opioid addiction, but it can open the door to recovery and provide the opportunity to regain lost lives,” said SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie.