Few Physicians Using Buprenorphine to Treat Addiction

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved buprenorphine to treat heroin and other opiate addiction in 2002, few doctors are using the drug as an alternative to methadone, Newsday reported May 6.

While methadone requires patients to make daily trips to a methadone clinic, buprenorphine is available through a doctor’s prescription and can be taken at home. And unlike methadone, buprenorphine does not have a high potential for misuse or fatal overdose.

The FDA approved the drug’s use for addiction to heroin, morphine, and prescription opiates such as OxyContin. However, only 1,000 doctors have prescribed buprenorphine since it became available in pharmacies last spring.

Addiction experts said restrictions attached to buprenorphine have discouraged its use. For instance, doctors who prescribe buprenorphine are required to take a daylong class to learn about the drug, and request a special license from the Drug Enforcement Agency before they can write prescriptions. In addition, doctors are not allowed to have more than 30 patients at one time on the medicine.

“There is no other medical treatment that demands this,” said Dr. Herbert Kleber, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan, N.Y.

Some doctors, like Dr. Ron Brady, medical director of Bridge Plaza, a methadone program in New York, also are skeptical about the drug’s effectiveness. “I want to see that it works before I start using it,” said Brady. “I have learned that some patients should never be alone when taking their medicine.”