HARRISBURG (June 28, 2019) Legislation introduced by Sen. Michele Brooks to attack the heroin and opioid crisis and crack down on the abuse of Suboxone (buprenorphine) — a treatment drug that contains an opioid — has passed the Senate.
“In the past few years, we have read many unsettling news stories pertaining to fraud and the illegal handling of the treatment drug Suboxone, which contains the opioid buprenorphine and naloxone,” Brooks said. “Suboxone has been sold and re-sold on the black market and has even become the drug of choice for some who are struggling with addiction. By having improved oversight on prescribing, and providing safeguards that patients using the drug are in treatment, we can ensure this drug is actually being used to treat an addiction, not feed one.”
“When used properly and as part of a treatment program, Suboxone can be a tool for treating addiction in some patients, but ignoring fraud and abuse does not help those struggling with addiction or their families, and it can put others in danger,” Brooks said.
She cited several recent instances of abuse. A State Trooper in Huntingdon lost his life when a criminal traded his Suboxone for a firearm. A child in Scranton was seriously injured when he ingested a strip of Suboxone hidden in a Dora the Explorer book. In Pittsburgh, the founder and staff of an opioid treatment facility pleaded guilty to health care fraud after submitting claims to Medicaid and Medicare to cover the costs of unlawfully prescribed drugs. And in Philadelphia, a doctor admitted to submitting illegal prescriptions for more than 18,000 doses of buprenorphine, netting him $5 million through these illegal sales.
Doctors who are allowed under federal law to prescribe Suboxone can prescribe for 30 patients, but over time, can increase that limit to up to 275 patients.
“Senate Bill 675 will better monitor office-based buprenorphine settings by requiring that they be certified by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and that clinics ensure that patients participate in a treatment program, in conjunction with their buprenorphine,” Brooks said.
Brooks added that the maker of Suboxone, Indivior, was recently charged with fraud and conspiracy by the U.S. Department of Justice. The company falsely maintained that Suboxone was less likely to be abused than generic alternatives. There are also growing concerns that Suboxone is more addictive than previously thought.
Calls for better safeguards surrounding Suboxone emerged in 2017, when Auditor General Gene DePasquale recommended that Pennsylvania undertake better monitoring of physicians and their prescribing practices because of the high potential for diversion among patients. Calling for additional licensing, DePasquale said patients should be given buprenorphine in a safe, well-controlled environment to ensure these dispensing facilities are legitimate treatment sites, and not “pill mills.”
Brooks’ bill requires the state’s Department of Drugs and Alcohol (DDAP) to create a program to certify prescribers of buprenorphine, and to ensure that prescribers have their patients actively participate in a treatment program.
Other states, including Massachusetts and West Virginia, have put additional regulations in place on buprenorphine.
Citing a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, Brooks said, “In only five years, between 2005 and 2010, the number of emergency room visits linked to buprenorphine has increased almost 10 times. In some cases, a substance hailed as a ‘solution’ has fueled the disease.”
Senate Bill 675 has now been sent to the House for that chamber’s consideration.
Contact: Diane McNaughton (717) 787-1322