Hoping to make a revolutionary treatment more available for heroin users, Baltimore is taking the unusual step of subsidizing a training program that could more than double the number of physicians permitted to prescribe a new medication to cure opiate addiction, the Baltimore Sun reports. Buprenorphine, called “bupe,” is used in place of methadone to wean addicts off heroin because it can be taken at home, is less prone to abuse, and is easier to discontinue when the patient is ready. Fewer than 90 physicians in Baltimore have completed the eight-hour training course required to prescribe the drug. “In a city like Baltimore, where we have a lot of doctors, this really offers a potential for a major expansion of access to care,” the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, said. “Getting doctors trained is just incredibly important.”
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002, buprenorphine has been slow to reach patients in Baltimore, where thousands are addicted to heroin. To reduce the risk of misuse, the federal government requires eight hours of training and also limits individual physicians to no more than 30 buprenorphine patients at any one time. Other cities, including New York, have provided funding to subsidize the training. National experts said it is relatively unusual for local governments to pick up the cost of training. Baltimore treats about 4,500 people a day with methadone and about 1,000 residents are being treated with buprenorphine. The city’s goal is to treat 10,000 patients with the new drug.