Rule change allows easier access to opioid addiction treatment

CINCINNATI -- Jeff Hawkins remembers when he realized opioids had taken over his life. 

"My rock bottom was, we were going to lose our house and I had to borrow two house payments, and I had to find something that was going to straighten me out," he said.

Hawkins called a doctor for help, but there was no opening. It took him two months to get treatment. 

Waiting lists for opioid addiction treatment may be getting shorter, now that more health professionals are allowed to prescribe buprenorphine, the main ingredient in opiate addiction treatment drug Suboxone. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration took action on a bill from Sen. Sherrod Brown Thursday. The change means that not just doctors, but also qualified nurses and physician assistants, can prescribe the medicine. 

Hawkins' doctor, Mike Kalfas, remembers when Suboxone was first released. Back then, an entire practice of doctors could only treat 30 patients. 

"You can't call my office to get an appointment or you can't call my clinic to get an appointment, then there's a problem," he said. 

The drug was limited in the beginning because side effects were still unknown. But as doctors pushed more legislation, those restrictions have loosened up. Now, qualified nurses, physician assistants and doctors can all treat 275 patients each. 

So why doesn't the government just get rid of the limit?

"You know, I have mixed feelings on this," Kalfas said. "Part of me wants to say, 'no cap,' but then again I will admit there has to be safeguards in place to make sure physicians are cautious with the use of something like this."

Hawkins said he's hoping the new law will help more people get the treatment he got.

"Saboxone has been great for me," he said. "It's totally turned my life around."

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