Combatting opioid use disorder with medication assisted therapy

Combatting the opioid epidemic with buprenorphine (Suboxone) training and technical assistance
May 3, 2019

Tackling the opioid epidemic requires the help of as many Texas health providers as possible. Texas A&M University Health Science Center has co-hosted a training session in order to equip Brazos Valley health care providers with the ability to prescribe buprenorphine to provide medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorder.

Buprenorphine is a type of drug called an opioid partial agonist-antagonists. It can diminish withdrawal symptoms and cravings and, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, it has very high efficacy helping a person affected by opioid use disorder to maintain recovery.

However, not all health care providers are currently qualified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prescribe buprenorphine. They must first receive a DATA 2000 Waiver, often referred to as an X-waiver, from the DEA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as an addendum to their current controlled substance DEA license.

In rural Texas, prescribers with the capability to provide buprenorphine are not widely available, and according to the SAMHSA Buprenorphine locator, only four providers in the Brazos Valley area have X-waivers. This program hopes to change that.

“Evidence continues to support the conclusion that medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder is highly effective,” said Marcia Ory, PhD, MPH, associate vice president of strategic partnerships and initiatives at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, chair of Opioid Task Force and Regents and Distinguished Professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

Joy Alonzo, M.Engineering, PharmD, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy and member of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Opioid Task Force, who has been conducting training for opioid overdose education and naloxone administration, concurs.

“Mass trainings like this one help equip medical providers with the ability to help overcome opioid use disorder and assist patients to sustain meaningful recovery,” Alonzo said. “As our understanding of the opioid problem in Texas matures, so does our understanding of effective approaches—and this is one of the most immediate paths to helping our communities.”

The training is part of GetWaiveredTX, an initiative led by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who is partnering with other Health Science Centers around the state.  The training is free and available to physicians (both MD and DO), physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

“Opioid use disorder is not a will power issue, it is a medical issue,” Ory said. “The idea of mass X-waiver trainings is fairly new, and it is particularly important to help providers follow through with both the training and the paperwork to receive the waiver. In short, it gives support to complete the waiver process.”

Waiver training involves four hours of in-person training and then additional hours of online training. Alonzo explains that perhaps the most important support offered from GetWaivered is support to navigate and complete the paperwork with the DEA.

Many of Texas A&M College of Medicine medical residents received training at this event. This is particularly good news, as Texas A&M Family Medicine Residents go on to practice medicine in rural areas of Texas—communities that often have the highest incidences of opioid use disorder, and the fewest health care options.

— Katherine Hancock