Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT) can be a lifeline for those who are addicted to opioids and struggle with long-term cravings and short-term withdrawal symptoms. However, research by NPR shows that doctors and pharmacists mistrust the drug, resulting in few people seeking help with addiction gaining access to it.

Doctors Have Little Incentive to Prescribe Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine, also known through the brand name Suboxone, is one of the most effective drugs that can help curtail opioid withdrawal and cravings. It’s hard for many addicted people to get ahold of, although the FDA has recommended it as a safe and valuable tool to fight the addiction crisis.

The FDA’s recommendations haven’t made it easier for physicians to prescribe it, however. In order to prescribe it, to begin with, there are many hurdles. Federal law requires prescribing doctors to apply for a special waiver from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As a part of the process, the doctor completes eight hours of training. Once this training is complete, the physician is only allowed to prescribe the drug to 30 patients at any one time. Many doctors don’t have time to meet these requirements and feel there is little benefit.

Pharmacies Provide Hurdles to MAT As Well

Pharmacies can also prevent many opioid users who need buprenorphine from getting it. In the past, pharmacists have refused to fill emergency contraception and even birth control pills. Refusal on moral grounds/religious objection is legal in the United States. Pharmacists can harbor moral objections and use this as a reason to refuse fulfilling prescriptions. There is always a chance that the pharmacists will refuse to fulfill Buprenorphine.

“We can write a bunch of prescriptions for people,” Dan Ventricelli, of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, told NPR. “But if they don’t have a pharmacy and a pharmacist that’s willing to fill that medication for them, fill it consistently and have an open conversation with that patient throughout that treatment process, then we may end up with a bottleneck at the community pharmacy.”

Access Is Important, and Stigma Must Be Overcome

Doctors need to be informed about the benefits of MAT, and hopefully, the government will loosen restrictions placed on drugs like Suboxone.

Moral objections can be answered with education. Many people who object to medication-assisted treatment don’t understand the drugs or how they work. For years, even the FDA viewed Buprenorphine as a way for addicted persons to trade one drug for another. That’s not actually how the mechanism works; instead, the drugs work to prevent cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms that are often a trigger to use.

Breaking the cycle of addiction is essential to long-term recovery. Medication-assisted treatment can provide a safe and effective way to help make the “break” from using a stick. More education is needed to show medical professionals that these drugs are safe, valuable tools to help patients recover from their opioid addiction.