The federal government is making it easier for medical providers to prescribe medications like buprenorphine that help opioid users move beyond their addiction.

Harm reduction experts, including members of the Hawaii Island Fentanyl Task Force, say it’s a huge step in the right direction to tackle the growing fentanyl crisis.

Buprenorphine is commonly known as Suboxone and it’s used to treat patients suffering from opioid use disorder.

Any medical provider who is authorized to prescribe drugs will now be able to give Suboxone to patients who need it. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

On Jan. 12, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it supports health policy changes enacted by Congress through the omnibus bill signed on Dec. 29. Among those changes was the elimination of a requirement that health care providers receive a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, a controlled substance.

Currently there are only “a couple of dozen” medical providers on the Big Island who can prescribe Suboxone or similar medications, said Dr. Kevin Kunz, a Kona-area addiction specialist and member of the Hawaii Island Fentanyl Task Force.

Dr. Kevin Kunz is a Kona-based physician who specializes in addiction medicine. (Courtesy: Kevin Kunz)

Now that federal officials have done away with the need for a waiver, any medical provider who is authorized to prescribe drugs will be able to give Suboxone to patients who need it, Kunz said at a news conference on Friday.

“The new reality is that every licensed physician, every licensed nurse practitioner, every licensed physician assistant can be part of the solution,” Kunz said.

Nearly 500 medical providers on the Big Island, instead of 25, and over 5,000 statewide, instead of a couple hundred, can now begin prescribing the drug, he said.

Doctors and others can take a free, one-hour online training to learn how to treat opioid addiction and start helping more people.

“Please don’t cause fear of the unknown to cause you to stand on the sidelines,” Kunz added.

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