Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, responding to the increase in overdose deaths from prescription drugs and heroin, announced it was considering a measure that would allow physicians to double the number of patients they can treat with buprenorphine. Unlike methadone, where patients must travel to special clinics daily to receive treatment, buprenorphine can be prescribed by certified physicians in private practices and can be taken at home. Currently, the limit is 100 patients per physician.
In Baltimore, a city that historically has had one of the highest rates of heroin use in the country, Health Commissioner Leana Wen (pictured, with Scott Nolen, director of OSI’s Drug Addiction Treatment program) welcomes the proposal. “We need to do everything we can to lift the barriers to addiction treatment,” she said in a recent Baltimore Sun article. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 578 people died from heroin overdoses in Maryland in 2014, a 25 percent increase from 2013, and double the number who died in 2010.
OSI recognizes that addiction is a chronic disease and should be treated through the medical system, not the criminal justice system. Our Drug Addiction Treatment program supports programs that make opioid addiction treatment accessible to as many people as possible by lowering the threshold to get into treatment and increasing the types of settings where treatment is available. We have a long history working with the both the Baltimore City Health Department and the Baltimore Police Department on initiatives ranging from the B More in Control campaign to help people understand addiction and identify treatment sources to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.
In 2006, OSI, with collaborators including the Baltimore City Health Department, Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB), HealthCare Access Maryland, Inc. (HCAM), the Mid-Atlantic Association of Community Health Centers (MACHC) and the Behavioral Health Leadership Institute (BHLI) developed the Baltimore Buprenorphine Initiative (BBI). BBI aims to increase access to effective treatment of heroin or and other opioid dependencies, improve the health of patients by integrating substance use disorder treatment with primary care, increase the number of physicians who provide buprenorphine treatment services, increase the duration of treatment for patients and create a model of care that can be sustained. The BBI is also designed to help primary care doctors feel more comfortable prescribing buprenorphine, which will increase the access by increasing the number of prescribers.