WASHINGTON — Wayne is a 60-year-old Washington resident who has spent 44 of those years addicted to drugs. That was before he began treatment with buprenenorphine.
Since the day, “it has been like heaven,” Wayne said.
Sheila, a 51-year-old housekeeper at a Washington hospital, started using drugs at 19 and took up with a boyfriend who introduced her to injecting heroin. Her desire to be a good mother to her daughter inspired her to get clean. It was treatment with buprenorphine that brought her back to her child.
Like so many addicts, Wayne and Sheila had both tried multiple times to quit, including methadone and other treatment programs. It wasn’t until they began using the prescription drug buprenorphine, however, that they found relief.
There are scores of stories like Wayne and Sheila in the District of Columbia, people who have overcome decades of opiate addiction, including prescription drugs, through use of buprenorphine. And as the word has spread, hundreds are lining up to be freed from the yoke of addiction through the medication.
But most won’t find relief anytime soon. Instead, they must wait six months, sometimes a year or more, because in Washington there aren’t enough physicians who can prescribe the drug. In all of the District of Columbia, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of opiate addiction, there are only 10 physicians who are actively prescribing buprenorphine and half are at Howard University Hospital.
Additionally, under federal regulations, each of those physicians can only treat 30 patients without special federal permission.
"We desperately need more physicians to be certified to prescribe buprenorphine for drug addiction," said Dr. Williams B. Lawson, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Howard University Hospital and Howard University College of Medicine. "Right now, I personally have a waiting list of over 200 people who want to be treated with the medication.”
To increase the number of physicians able to prescribe buprenorphine, Howard University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science has created a website that it hopes will encourage more doctors to become certified, http://HUOvercomingAddictionsTogether.com. The site, which is funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, provides the information and links physicians need to become quickly certified.
“Using this site, a physician should be able to begin prescribing this important drug in less than 48 hours,” Lawson said. "And this is desperately needed in the District of Columbia because of high rates of HIV/AIDS, which we know are related to high rates of opiate addiction.”
The cite also has a plethora of treatment information for prospective patients and their families. It explains the phases of buprenorphine treatment, how the drug should be taken and what effects it has on the body.
It also tells families and prospective patients how to find a physician who can prescribe the drug and how to find out if it the medicine is covered by their private insurance. It explains insurance coverage for the medicine under state and federal insurance programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, and coverage and reimbursement of costs for veterans through the Veterans Administration.
Sheila said she hopes the drug becomes more readily available because of what it has meant to her.
“I had tried a lot of things, methadone and other programs,” she said. “They work for some people, but they didn’t work for me. This did. It gave me my life back. It gave me my daughter back.”
For more information, visit the website or contact Dr. William B. Lawson at email@example.com or 202.865.6611.