OHSU Helps Provide Training for New Medication Aimed at Treating Heroin Dependence

01/30/03    Portland, Ore.

Attendees receive training to prescribe newly FDA-approved medication, buprenorphine

Oregonians fighting heroin abuse will soon have access to the first anti-opiate addiction medication available through primary care physicians. Following U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of buprenorphine in October, Oregon's rural health care providers will first be offered the mandatory training required to prescribe the medication. Oregon Health & Science University's (OHSU) Northwest Frontier Addiction Technology Transfer Center (NFATTC) will provide the training Feb. 1-2. The session will take place in Canyonville, Ore. at the Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino Resort. Physicians, counselors and pharmacists from eight southern Oregon counties have been invited to attend.

Buprenorphine, which was approved for use by the FDA on Oct. 8, 2002, acts on the same brain receptors as morphine. However, it does not produce the same high, craving and withdrawal symptoms. This effect allows users to end dependence on heroin and other drugs.

"Until now, all treatment for opiate addiction took place in specialized treatment centers such as methadone clinics," said Dennis McCarty, Ph.D., professor of public health and preventive medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. "Most of those centers are located in urban areas. Because buprenorphine can be prescribed by primary care physicians, it could be a very important tool in combating addiction in rural areas where there's a lack of treatment facilities. In addition, the urban centers are often filled to capacity. Buprenorphine will relieve some of that burden and make treatment much more available to those who seek it."

Buprenorphine is the fourth medication made available for heroin and opiate addiction. Congress mandates that physicians who prescribe the medication undergo at least eight hours of training to obtain certification.

"Through training sessions such as this one, buprenorphine is expected to become an important tool for fighting opiate addiction; however, it will not replace methadone treatment," explained Steven Gallon, Ph.D., project director for the NFATTC, co-organizer of the training. "We think the medication will be incredibly useful in both rural and urban areas where opiate addiction has grown rampant in recent years."

Throughout the state of Oregon, heroin addiction increased during the 90s. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1993 and 1999 the number of heroin overdose cases more than doubled in Multnomah County alone. (517 deaths total).

The conference is sponsored by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The program was also made possible through cooperation with the Oregon Department of Human Services' Office of Mental Health and Addiction Services.