Almost 107,000 people died in the United States due to a drug poisoning in 2021, with 75% of those deaths involving an opioid. Opioid-related deaths, including those involving fentanyl, have risen rapidly in Washington, with some of the highest increases occurring in our rural communities. Organizations across the country, including many Washington hospitals, are engaging in program development to increase access to medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder and increase education for professionals who may encounter an individual with substance use disorder. One strategy to increase access to medication-assisted treatment is to prescribe buprenorphine.
Buprenorphine is a medication for opioid use disorder that helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and leads to lower rates of misuse, but it is often under-prescribed due to systemic barriers and stigma toward individuals with substance use disorder. Historically, there were additional steps providers needed to take to be able to prescribe buprenorphine, including securing a DATA-Waiver, which led to fewer providers able to offer this life-saving medication. And while there is overwhelming evidence that buprenorphine is safe, one study from SAMHSA shows only 22% of individuals with opioid use disorder are ever prescribed medications. Research also shows increasing access to buprenorphine does not increase overdose deaths involving buprenorphine.
With the recent passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, the United States Congress has eliminated the waiver program. This means prescribers no longer need a specific waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, and there are no longer limits to the number of patients a provider may treat with buprenorphine. Prescribers are encouraged to read more about the recent changes and learn more about providing this life-saving medication, and hospitals are encouraged to evaluate their internal policies and procedures to assure there are no internal barriers preventing the medication from being offered. More information about the law change can be found in the bulletin issued by the WSHA Government Affairs team.
WSHA offers many opportunities to get involved and receive support on quality improvement related to opioids and substance use disorder. For more information, please see our Behavioral Health and Opioid Stewardship pages.
Assistant Director of Behavioral Health