When it appeared two years ago, the medication sounded too good to be true: a little pill that could subdue addicts’ cravings for heroin or prescription painkillers, with little risk of abuse and without creating a new long-term dependency, says the Baltimore Sun. For many, buprenorphine has lived up to its promise as a powerful new weapon against opiate addiction with major advantages over methadone, long the main medical option for addicts.
But buprenorphine has reached only a small fraction of those who could benefit from it, in part because of restrictions imposed by Congress when it approved use of the drug. That might change under a bill that would lift one of its key restrictions: the 30-patient limit on prescribing the medication that applies to teaching hospitals, community health centers, and one of the nation’s largest managed-care groups. The lifting of the so-called group practice cap – a restriction lawmakers say they never intended to be so broad – could have a arge impact in Baltimore and other cities where many addicts tend to seek help from the clinics and hospitals most constrained by the law. Baltimore has an estimated 40,000 heroin users, making the opiate by far the city’s biggest drug problem. The number of people receiving buprenorphine at any given time has been in the hundreds.