Suboxone is a drug that helps keep heroin addicts’ relentless cravings at bay and now outpaces methadone as a treatment. The Washington Post reports that even as heroin use surges in the U.S. –drug overdoses kill more people than any other kind of accident–addicts and doctors say barriers keep some from the treatment they desperately need. For the past decade or so, private doctors have been allowed to prescribe it to a small number of patients, as long as they get training from the Drug Enforcement Administration and follow rules intended to keep the drug from reaching the street. The hope was to integrate addiction treatment with primary care and allow patients to get care that has less of a stigma than a methadone clinic.
While methadone can cost up to $3,500 per patient per year, Suboxone costs two to three times as much, says the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors. It's a safer drug than methadone, with less risk of overdose and illegal use. Every day, the clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore turns people away. Most doctors are not licensed to prescribe it, and many are not interested in working with heroin addicts. Some insurance companies strictly limit the drug. Medicaid isn't ideal for providers either. It covers the drug but pays only a tiny fraction of the office visit, making it far easier for the well-insured to get than the poor. Doctors were initially limited to 30 patients; now they are allowed to treat up to 100.