The Most Underused Weapon in the War on Opioids

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Bob Hallinan

Executive Producer

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            The most effective treatment for people addicted to opioids is medication in combination with behavioral therapy. The oldest and best known such medication is methadone, but methadone, by law, must be administered to the patient daily at a clinic—a enormous obstacle for busy people and people in rural areas who don’t live near a methadone clinic.

            Buprenorphine, better known by its brand name, Suboxone, is also an effective drug and is available by prescription. People can pick it up at the pharmacy like any other drug. That’s a big part of why Suboxone is regarded as a critical medication to halting the worst drug crisis in American history.  With Suboxone, “most of my patients say they can do more things in their life. They can get a job, and their family life is better,” said Roopa Sethi, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist in the addictions clinic at The University of Kansas Health System.

But only one in four people addicted to opioids—prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl— receives medication-assisted treatment. “It’s shocking how few people with an opioid use disorder are receiving treatment today,” said Andrew Roberts, Pharm.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. “It [buprenorphine] is possibly the lowest hanging fruit we collectively have to make a dent in the opioid crisis.”


Roberts is conducting research to help identify and ultimately eliminate barriers to opioid addiction treatment, and buprenorphine in particular. In this video, he describes his research into one potential barrier to access to buprenorphine: cost.   Sethi describes her work at the addictions clinic, how Suboxone works in the brain, and what steps The University of Kansas Health System is taking to improve people’s access to medication-assisted treatment.