Federal government allowing more prescriptions for heroin drug

Posted at 8:37 PM, Jul 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-07 11:00:34-04

Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained a statement comparing the addictive qualities of Soboxone and methadone that was mistakenly attributed to city health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. The story has been updated.


In the battle against heroin addiction, medical professionals may have a new tool that's more effective than methadone, the current method used to treat the disease.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is allowing doctors to write up to 275 prescriptions each year for buprenorphine, better known as Saboxone.

When it comes to the fight against heroin, Baltimore could be considered ground zero. According to the latest numbers from the state health department, 192 people died within city limits due to heroin overdose in 2014.

Available numbers for the same year show 578 people were killed in Maryland.

In west Baltimore, dozens go to the Tuerk House, an inpatient treatment center on Ashburton St., hoping to get what many of them consider life-saving medicine. The loosening of regulations means many more will be given a chance.

The centers executive director said they treat about 450 clients each year.

"The need is so great out there. This is a problem," Kevin Tyler, who has been running the center since December, said.

Tyler said the additional tools helps, but only gets the ball rolling on treatment.

"I also think that it should not be a life-long program," he said.

Baltimore city's health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, agreed the newly expanded guidelines are indeed helpful.

"It's a combination of medications, including buprenorphine, and psycho-social support and wrap-around services," Wen said.

Wen said she differs in this battle because she believes that no maximum prescription amount could actually be more beneficial.

"This is killing our families, our friends, our neighbors, and we need every tool in our toolbox in order to fight addicition. There are more people in the city dying from overdose than there are from homicide," said Wen.

DHS estimates between 10,000 and 70,000 people could get help immediately within the first year of implementation.

It will become effective Aug. 1.


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