It is difficult enough dealing with opioid use disorder and trying to survive another day to find a doctor who understands. But what if in your quest for addiction treatment, you are confronted with buprenorphine misconceptions from those same doctors who are supposed to help you? Well, this would be a problem.
As an addiction medicine specialist, I'm often surprised by the assumptions that pharmacists, doctors, and nurses make about opioid dependence and the patients who are struggling to recover. As a matter of fact, I am surprised by the assumptions they make about me; that somehow because I treat heroin and fentanyl addicts, I am somehow doing something wrong.
Well, researchers sought to find out exactly what buprenorphine misinformation existed among medical professionals. Is what I am seeing the norm, my misunderstanding, or are medical professionals making matters worse instead of helping. Let's dive deeper into this study.
What the Study Did
The new research study published in 2024 aimed to learn whether healthcare providers have incorrect beliefs about the addiction medication buprenorphine - and if so, whether those wrong ideas make them less willing to prescribe this beneficial treatment.
Buprenorphine is the gold standard medication proven to help people recover from opioid addiction. But it is greatly underused in treating this national epidemic.
The researchers focused specifically on assessing misinformation, which means false or inaccurate beliefs about how something works.
Here is an example of a common myth about buprenorphine:
"Buprenorphine just trades one addiction for another - it doesn't really treat opioid addiction or support recovery."
However medical evidence clearly shows this belief is incorrect.
The study gathered survey data from 409 healthcare professionals in Ohio, including:
The survey measured:
How much misinformation providers believe about buprenorphine's effectiveness and safety
Whether believing more myths about buprenorphine translates to providers being less willing to:
Treat opioid addiction
It also asked about providers:
General attitudes towards patients with addiction
Past training in treating addiction
Whether they currently prescribe buprenorphine
This allowed the researchers to analyze the role misinformation plays as a barrier, preventing wider access to this beneficial medication.
The study revealed concerning results about misinformation and unwillingness to utilize buprenorphine:
48% of healthcare providers surveyed believe at least some incorrect information about buprenorphine
The most commonly endorsed myths were that buprenorphine:
Does not reduce risk of overdose death
Just substitutes one drug for another
Providers who believed more misinformation about buprenorphine were:
Less willing to treat opioid addiction
Less interested in prescribing buprenorphine
Less likely to get special training required to prescribe buprenorphine
These key findings clearly demonstrate connections between misinformation and reduced willingness to provide this beneficial medication.
Misinformation about buprenorphine is common
Believing myths about its effectiveness or appropriateness is tied to being less interested prescribing buprenorphine
This suggests correcting misunderstandings could be important for increasing access to treatment
In this way, the results reveal that misinformation itself acts as a barrier preventing wider adoption of evidence-based treatment for opioid addiction.
Time to Correct Myths for Better Care
These compelling research findings sound a wake-up call to improve addiction education among healthcare professionals.
Outdated myths clearly still influence far too many providers, feeding reluctance and damaging care for a vulnerable patient group. We must urgently rectify this unacceptable situation where misinformation blocks access to life-saving treatment.
Rather than stigmatizing attitudes, the central problem highlighted here is remediable lack of accurate information about medication-assisted therapies. Refreshingly, this suggests a surmountable challenge. Most providers likely aim to help rather than harm. Equipping them with correct understanding about proven treatment options can better enable compassionate, ethical, effective addiction care.
We all have a role to play in reshaping narratives. Researchers must continue illuminating problems. Educators need updating curricula reflecting scientific consensus. Policymakers should fund broad dissemination of unbiased information from trusted authorities. Media should spotlight solutions over misguided controversies.
And crucially, providers now have a mandate to proactively seek out accurate knowledge. We know lifesaving therapies exist but fail to reach most needing them. An informed healthcare workforce is essential so demonstrably effective treatment like buprenorphine can achieve full lifesaving potential. The opportunity is clear - it is time to overcome outdated misconceptions. Patients deserve no less than healthcare teams properly equipped with the best modern understanding to compassionately battle this crisis together.
Franz, B., Dhanani, L. Y., Hall, O. T., Brook, D. L., Fenstemaker, C., Simon, J. E., & Miller, W. C. (2024). Buprenorphine misinformation and willingness to treat patients with opioid use disorder among primary care-aligned health care professionals. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 19(7). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13722-024-00436-y
About the author:
Dr. Harold Pierre is a board-certified anesthesiologist and addiction medicine specialist with over 20 years of experience. He is certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Preventive Medicine.
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