Despite an overdose epidemic that killed 107,000 people last year, nearly 9 in 10 Americans who need medication to treat their addiction to deadly opioids aren’t receiving it. Surprising new results from a first-of-its-kind study in Rhode Island could be a key to getting addiction medication to more people who need it: allowing patients to get prescriptions at their local pharmacy rather than a doctor’s office. The change would particularly help those with low incomes who lack housing and transportation, the study found, Stateline reports. The Biden administration and states have been working to reduce barriers to addiction treatment. State officials plan to use a chunk of the $26 billion they will receive from pharmaceutical companies in opioid settlement funds to increase access to addiction medication.
In the more than two decades since the lifesaving addiction medication buprenorphine has been available, most of the nation’s 900,000 doctors have been unwilling to prescribe the medication. Experts cite stigma and a lack of understanding of addiction medicine as the reasons for the reluctance. In the study, 100 patients started taking buprenorphine after visiting specially trained pharmacists at six retail pharmacies in the Providence area. From that group, 58 patients volunteered to be randomly assigned either to a clinic or doctor’s office for continued care or to keep visiting the pharmacy for check-ins and refills. One month later, eighty nine percent of patients assigned to a pharmacy continued to show up for their medication and consultation, compared with only seventeen percent of those who received buprenorphine the usual way — in a clinic or doctor’s office.