RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia is joining a handful of states to eliminate a barrier for people struggling with opioid addiction.
Starting Friday, Virginians on Medicaid will have easier access to suboxone films, created by combining buprenorphine and naloxone.
It reduces the symptoms of withdrawal and eases the cravings for opioids, helping addicts recover. Suboxone can be taken as a sheet of film patients put on their tongues, one of the newer forms of the buprenorphine product.
“It’s as good or better than aspirin for a heart attack,” Dr. Chethan Bachireddy, the acting chief medical officer of Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS), said comparing the uses of the medication.
Previously, patients would have to get permission from DMAS and or Medicaid to be prescribed this medicine. Bachireddy says that’s because there were concerns patients would misuse or abuse it.
Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey announced today during a meeting with the Governor’s opioid advisory committee that there will no longer be preauthorization required for the use of the product from DMAS or Medicaid health plans.
This policy change only applies to suboxone films. Tablets and other forms of buprenorphine or combinations of buprenorphine and naloxone that aren’t part of a preferred drugs list from Medicaid will still need pre-approval before patients can take them.
Physicians who prescribe suboxone films are certified through a federal eight-hour long program and are part of a network coordinated by DMAS or its health plans.
Bachireddy says Virginia is one of a few states that has made this policy change.
“This is a medication that everyone with opioid addiction should be accessing,” he explained,” because it is evidence-based and it can really save lives and help people on the journey to recovery.”
According to the Virginia Dept. of Health, there were more than 1,200 opioid overdose deaths in Virginia in 2017.
As of today, there are more than 246,000 adults who have signed up for Medicaid through the expansion signed into law last year.
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers estimate about 18,000 people with an opioid addiction will be able to access care through Medicaid expansion.