Suboxone, a drug that is used to treat opiate use disorder, is now the second most prescribed drug in the state, according to a report from the Maine Health Data Organization, based on drugs prescribed to Mainers in 2016 and 2017.
“The increase in Suboxone prescribing is really a reflection of the fact this disease is very prevalent in our state,” Dr. Noah Nesin, Penobscot Community Health Care, vice president of medical affairs. “It's pretty widespread. It's estimated there may be 35,000 people in Maine with opioid use disorder.”
A 2017 change in the law now allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe Suboxone for up to 30 patients, if they take the required training.
“Much of the increased capacity in Maine for treating opioid use disorder is being provided by nurse practitioners in the state, who as a profession have embraced this much more fully than physicians or physician assistants,” Nesin said.
Maine saw a record 418 overdose deaths in 2017 and 180 drug deaths in the first six months of 2018. The increase in treatment should help reduce those deaths.
“I actually am encouraged that more people are accessing treatment,” Nesin said. “It's still not the number we should be doing. That number is going higher if we are successful at offering treatment to everybody who has opioid use disorder, regardless of where we live.”
“Commensurate with that, we should see opioid overdose deaths declining eventually, and that hasn't happened yet,” he added later.
According to health care professionals, prescribing is just a reflection of the need for treatment.
“Providers and society are now beginning to think about opioid substance abuse disorder in a different way realizing that the treatment is legitimate,” said State Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, (D-Bangor).
Lawmakers in Augusta, including Gratwick, have a list of bills designed to help.