Increased Access To Buprenorphine (Suboxone) In 2021: What This Means For Opioid Addiction Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021

Buprenorphine is an evidence-based treatment for opioid addiction, which affects an estimated two million Americans. Recent changes to federal guidelines on prescribing buprenorphine have the potential to expand access to this drug, according to experts.

What Increased Access To Suboxone Means For Addiction Treatment

As the United States continues to grapple with a deadly opioid epidemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released new guidelines that have the potential to increase access to buprenorphine.

Buprenorphine, a gold-standard treatment for opioid addiction, is a medication that can:

  • reduce opioid cravings
  • reduce the risk of overdose
  • improve quality of life outcomes in recovery

According to drug abuse experts, these new changes made by the Biden Administration are a positive step that will benefit people living with addiction and those in opioid addiction recovery.

What Changes Have Been Made?

On Tuesday, April 27, 2021, the U.S. federal government issued several changes to requirements for prescribing buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone or Subutex.

Training Requirements For Prescribing Buprenorphine

New guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have eased training requirements for who can prescribe buprenorphine.

Previously, prescribing buprenorphine for opioid use disorder required that physicians undergo eight hours of specialized training—a requirement first mandated under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000.

According to drug abuse experts, this has historically reduced access to buprenorphine for people with opioid addiction, especially in rural areas where there are fewer prescribers.

New changes now exempt eligible healthcare workers from having to undergo extensive training to prescribe buprenorphine, including:

  • eligible physicians
  • nurse practitioners
  • physician assistants
  • clinical nurse specialists
  • certified registered nurse anesthetists
  • certified nurse midwives

Number Of Patients Who Can Receive Buprenorphine

Under the new guidelines, eligible health workers can treat up to 30 patients with buprenorphine at a time without obtaining a special waiver.

This goes hand in hand with the loosened restrictions on training requirements. This is expected to help increase the number of people who will be able to access buprenorphine through a prescriber.

What Is Buprenorphine And Why Is It Prescribed?

Buprenorphine is an opioid-based medication used to treat opioid dependence and addiction. It is commonly used within medication-assisted treatment programs for opioid use disorder.

Buprenorphine comes in the form of a film or tablet. For people addicted to opioids, it can help reduce opioid cravings, which are a common trigger for relapse.

Common opioids of abuse include:

  • oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • heroin
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • fentanyl

Buprenorphine, particularly Suboxone—the brand name for naloxone with buprenorphine—is an evidence-based treatment for opioid dependence that can be safe and effective for long-term use.

Benefits Of Increasing Access To Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is one of the leading treatments for opioid addiction and can help people maintain their recovery, particularly in the early stages when cravings can be stronger.

Benefits of increasing access to buprenorphine could include:

  • increasing the number of people who can receive it
  • increased treatment retention
  • reduced barriers to effective treatment
  • improved quality of life outcomes
  • reduced risk for opioid overdose
  • increased opportunity for long-term recovery

From September 2019 to September 2020, more than 90,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States occurred—the highest number ever recorded.

About 70 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the United States—tens of thousands of deaths each year—involve opioids.

Increasing access to addiction treatments like buprenorphine can be not only life-changing for people with addiction, but also life-saving.

Who Can Benefit From Increased Access To Buprenorphine?

Expanding access to buprenorphine has the potential to benefit anyone who is either actively addicted to opioids or is in opioid addiction recovery.

These guidelines may also expand buprenorphine access for people who have historically had a more difficult time acquiring it, despite having a clear need.

This can include:

  • rural residents
  • incarcerated populations
  • residents of areas with few prescribers

Addiction researcher Brendan Saloner of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Associated Press that these new guidelines will “provide more on-ramps to treatment,” particularly in settings where people most commonly show up for treatment.

Finding Buprenorphine Treatment

For many people with opioid use disorder, medications like buprenorphine can be life-saving. If you’re looking for treatment for yourself or a loved one addicted to opioids, we can help.

Call our helpline today to find an opioid addiction treatment program that’s right for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021
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