As many of our readers know, I got pretty stirred up earlier this summer when one of our local pharmacies decided to not carry buprenorphine or suboxone products. The pharmacist actually said to me, “these patients never get better and these medications are no better than pain pills. ”
And as of this writing, 1770 people saw my facebook post about this on June 23rd. Well here’s the followup. Let’s see if this district manager cares about this. Here’s the email I just sent him. Let the games begin.
September 18, 2018
Will Henning, Pharmacy District Manager
Albertsons District Manager
1421 S Manhattan Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92838
Dear Mr. Henning
My name is Dr. Ken Starr. I am a Board Certified Addiction Medicine Specialist with a medical practice in Arroyo Grande, CA. My clinic is a state licensed and CARF accredited facility specializing in the treatment of substance use disorders. Many of our patients are treated specifically for opiate use disorders.
As you are well aware, about 100 patients die in our country daily from opiate overdoses. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has officially declared the country to be in an “Opioid Overdose Crisis”. Because of this, both the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the National Institute of Health has identified improving access to treatment one of its major priorities.
One of the pivotal steps in reducing overdose deaths, reducing medical complications of addiction, and increasing engagement in recovery has been the implementation of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) with medications such as Buprenorphine and Buprenorphine containing products such as Suboxone. There is currently a tremendous effort underway nationally to train more doctors to recognize and treat addiction and to become X-waivered by the DEA to prescribe Buprenorphine products for Opiate Use Disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) considers Buprenorphine to be a Class 1A drug for the treatment of Opiate Use Disorder. Organizations such as the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association have taken a strong stand recommending Buprenorphine products as an integral part of a recovery treatment plan.
I was shocked and disappointed on June 23rd, 2018 when Pharmacist Levan Hoang ( RPH 68310 CA State Pharmacy Board) discussed with me her decision to not stock Buprenorphine products at SAV-On Pharmacy #314 (189 Niblick Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446) was based on her personal belief that “ these patients never get better and these medications are no better than pain pills”.
I think it’s important that you are made keenly aware of this situation. Ms. Hoang is personally taking it upon herself to restrict access to a broad category of medication that is highly recommended as the standard of care for the thousands of patients in this community with an opiate use disorder.
It’s my understanding that the law mandates a pharmacy must provide any medicine legally prescribed unless: it’s not covered by insurance, the patient is unable to pay the cost, or the pharmacist determines doing so would be against the law or potentially harmful to a patients health. In this case, Ms. Hoang was simply portraying the medication as “ not immediately available”. But her statements suggest she wasn’t ordering any Buprenorphine products to stock. She verbally confirmed this with me on the phone at the time.
According to your companies Notice of Nondiscrimination, Albertsons and their subsidiary entities comply “ with applicable Federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex. Albertsons Companies does not exclude people or treat them differently because of race, color, national origin, age, disability or sex. “ One could argue in this situation your employee is discriminating against patients with an opiate use disorder by refusing to stock medications directed and solely for their treatment.
Due to the above action, I plan on filing a grievance with Albertsons Companies Chief Compliance Officer as well as a civil rights complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.
I pray you feel motivated and take action to remedy this situation. All patients deserve access to life saving medications. Our community does not benefit from a rogue, opinionated, and poorly informed pharmacist dictating what treatments should be available.
Ken Starr MD FACEP ABAM