On the heels of recent coverage over the "dangers" of the medication buprenorphine, researchers are seeking to better understand what keeps doctors from using one of the two the most effective tools for opioid use disorders at their disposal. The most recent study, "Barriers to Primary Care Physicians Prescribing Buprenorphine", was published in the Annals of Family Medicine and is available in-full online - for free. The study came out of the Rural Opioid Addiction Management in Washington state, during which 120 physicians were trained in opioid addiction and buprenorphine prescribing. Disappointingly, of the 78 respondents who were analyzed for the study, 50 went on to obtain a DATA waiver, yet a mere 22 doctors ever went on to prescribe the medication to anyone. It begs the question: why aren't more docs prescribing buprenorphine?
Among the barriers cited by the doctors in the study, "Lack of psychosocial support" was cited as the number one barrier by both prescribers and non-prescribers, despite the lack of evidence that behavioral adjuncts or additional counseling improve outcomes. (Granted, the authors point out that in order to get reimbursed by a number of payers, additional counseling must be offered to patients.)
A quick scan across the literature leads us to another important and common driver of physician attitudes toward this medication: institutional support. It appears that study after study cite the impact of the hospital/clinic/practice culture on the subsequent interest. training and prescription of buprenorphine by its docs. In the present study, "resistance from practice partners" and "lack of institutional support" were commonly cited as barriers. A recent article from the March issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment described how important "A strong leader championing the new treatment" was to the implementation of buprenorphine prescribing across a large system.
What do you think? How can we be more effective at impacting change at the prescriber level? If culture plays an important role, how do we improve the culture around this proven tool?