Senator calls for change following News 8 investigation

U.S. Senator calls for changes to a federally-run directory meant to connect opiate addicts with treatment. (Image: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

(WTNH) — In response to a recent WTNH investigation, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) today, in a letter, urged the Department of Health and Human Services to address issues found with the Buprenorphine Treatment Physician Locator, the only centralized list of providers nationwide. Buprenorphine, more commonly known by the brand name Suboxone, is a prescription medication used to treat opiate addiction. 

“Connecticut is not the only place where this is a major problem,” Murphy told News 8. “What we know is we don’t have enough capacity right now when it comes to physicians able to prescribe Suboxone, and that’s compounded by this list.”

The News 8 Investigators called every Connecticut physician listed on the federally-run website over the course of January and early February for our story. Out of 360 listings, the News 8 Investigators found about 100 of those were duplicates. After eliminating these, the total number of doctors who are licensed to prescribe Buprenorphine in Connecticut is 262.

We found that 30 percent were currently treating patients with Buprenorphine. Out of that number, 60 percent had capacity for new patients. Many of the listings rang to disconnected phone numbers, or went straight to voicemail. While the News 8 Investigators left voicemails in every instance, we only heard back from a small number of doctors. 

In the letter addressed to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Murphy wrote, “Unfortunately, a recent news investigation by WTNH News8 in Connecticut indicated that the list is out-of-date and provides insufficient information for those seeking treatment.”

“It was the WTNH report that really opened my eyes to the fact that we have a problem with this list,” Murphy said.

The Buprenorphine Treatment Physician Locator lists any doctor who has completed a required ten-hour training and received a special DEA license to prescribe the drug. The list is not maintained to reflect which physicians are actively prescribing, but only that they’ve completed these two requirements.

Murphy explained that some of the maintenance problems with the list may be due to lack of accountability among government agencies. “The reason this list is out-of-date is you’ve got SAMSHA [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] over here, and you’ve got the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] over here, and they’re not talking to each other. Now, hopefully, I can do some work over the course of the next few months to solve that problem.”

Murphy also said that in the course of exploring this issue, he has found out that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which runs the directory, is currently not able to reach out to physicians themselves to see if they are currently prescribing. In his letter, Murphy asked Secretary Burwell to address this issue in particular.

“We’re working with SAMSHA as we speak,” Murphy said. “Right now, we don’t know whether we need to pass legislation that would give SAMSHA permission to proactively reach out to physicians that are on the DEA list or whether they can do that just in an agreement between themselves.”

There are several reasons for doctors who may be listed in the directory but are not actively prescribing. Some may already prescribe buprenorphine and have reached their patient limits as regulated by the government. A doctor can only prescribe to a maximum of 100 patients, or 30 if they are in their first year of doing so. Others we spoke with stopped practicing addiction medicine for focus on another specialty.

Murphy promised, “If we need legislation, I’m going to introduce legislation to get this problem fixed.”

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