This weekend, Baltimore Sun highlighted on its front page the potential problems in recent changes to the Maryland Medicaid Pharmacy Preferred Drug List (PDL), issues that Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Drug Addiction Treatment program and others raised in a June 23rd op-ed in the Sun.
On July 1, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) removed Suboxone film (also known as buprenorphine film), an effective and well-tolerated medication that is widely prescribed to treat opioid addiction, from the PDL and replaced it with Zubsolv tablets, citing, among other reasons, efforts to counter the smuggling of the film into Maryland correctional facilities.
Nolen and co-authors Deborah Agus, executive director of Behavioral Health Leadership Institute (BHLI), and Dr. Leonard Feldman, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and president of BHLI’s board, contend that this change will be a “major barrier” for many who have struggled with addiction. “The new medication might not work as well for them. Dosages will need adjustment. For many patients in early recovery, recovery is tenuous… There is a real possibility that many will fail to make the transition; they will join the ever increasing overdose death statistics in Maryland.”
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner, seems to agree. In a letter to Van T. Mitchell, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, she wrote, “Changes in medication formulation can and will lead to relapses, overdoses and deaths.”
The Sun also notes that DHMH Secretary Van Mitchell’s former employer, the lobbying firm Manis Canning & Associates, represents Orexo US Inc., Zubsolv’s maker, raising the possibility of a conflict of interest.
OSI-Baltimore is committed to addressing the public health crisis of addiction and has been working for nearly a decade to make buprenorphine widely available to treat opiate addiction in Baltimore, as detailed in our recent report, “Using Buprenorphine to Treat Opioid Addiction.”