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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Proposed Changes Could Relieve Opiate Treatment Backlog

The Obama administration and Congress are considering changes to a treatment central to Vermont’s effort to combat addiction.

The changes under consideration involve the drug buprenorphine, commonly called Suboxone.

It’s dispensed in Vermont by doctors who offer treatment for opioid addiction.

The Obama administration has indicated it wants to increase a cap on the number of patients a doctor can treat from 100 to 500.

“The majority of physicians in Vermont are not treating near that many, but there are a few that are, so we know have people who definitely would take more [patients] if they could,” says Vermont Health Department Deputy Commissioner Barbara Cimaglio.

She says raising the limit would particularly help practices that specialize in treating addiction disorders.

Congress is also looking at allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, another change the state supports.

Vermont’s "hub and spoke" system for treating addiction relies on doctors to serve as "spokes", providing local care for many patients who are first treated at a regional hub.

The state has had difficulty enlisting enough doctors willing to treat addiction and also finding physicians who will take more than a handful of patients.

The problem has created a backlog of people waiting for treatment, which Cimaglio says the changes would help address.  

“When we hear about the waiting list for hub services, in order to free up more space in our hubs, if they could move more of their patients out into community practices, it would free up more space for people who need that specialty level of care,” says Cimaglio.

Cimaglio says there’s a lot of interest in the changes because so many states are dealing with opiate addiction.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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