Wisconsin Medicaid panel decides to keep Suboxone on its preferred list

By Watchdog News /   May 12, 2017

WISCONSIN – Suboxone, a medication that aids in the recovery of opiate addiction, will remain a preferred Medicaid-covered drug in Wisconsin despite complaints from state jail officials that it’s too easy to smuggle into prisons because of its film form.

A state Medicaid pharmacy committee decided this week to add a pill form of the drug to its preferred medications list but also to keep the film form on the list.

Suboxone is a brand name drug made of buprenorphine, which is an opiate, and naloxone, an opiate blocker, that helps in the recovery from opiate use disorder. The drug comes in a film form that dissolves under the tongue.

“Suboxone is used as part of an overall treatment plan,” Carolyn Baxter MD, Psychiatrist at Prevea Behavioral Care in Sheboygan, told Watchdog.org. “It is given as a daily dose so that people can stop engaging in drug-seeking behavior.”

Because of Suboxone’s effectiveness in treating opiate addiction, Medicaid has designated it as a preferred drug.

But the Badger State Sheriffs Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Organization asked the state Medicaid program to stop covering the film version of the drug.

“Our issue, I guess, is not necessarily with the drug in and of itself, it’s with the administration of it, the smuggling in of the strips is what it is because it provides a very unique opportunity for the criminals and the addicts, if you will, to hide the strip, if you will, of Suboxone, buprenorphine into the jails and correctional facilities, therefore causing issues within the walls itself,” Sheriff Kim Gaffney, president of Badger State Sheriff’s Association, said.

Many local authorities are looking at better ways to prevent easy access of the drug to inmates.

“Certainly our officers and our correctional facility staff must be more diligent, better trained and more aware of these type of issues because once the drug does get in, it can be used for its non-prescribed purpose, if you will, as well as to be abused within the facilities,” Gaffney said.

Gaffney, Baxter and others agree that the drug itself is not the issue.

“Suboxone is not evil in and of itself,” Devorah Goldman, Health Policy Consultant for Capital Policy Analytics, said. “Obviously it helps a lot of people and particularly naloxone, which basically blocks the effects of opiates, can be very valuable.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has filed a lawsuit against the drugs’ manufacturers. According to the lawsuit, the drug manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceutical, introduced the drug in tablet form in 2002. Before their exclusivity period ran out, they worked with MonoSol Rx to create the film version of the drug and then pulled the tablet form off the market, the lawsuit alleges. Thirty-five other states have joined the lawsuit.

In a statement made after Wisconsin’s lawsuit was filed, MonoSol Rx CEO Keith Kendall said it was frivolous.

“We believe that the allegations in the complaint are wholly without merit and the suit is both factually and legally deficient,” Kendall said in the statement.

Despite issues with the drug in its current form, Baxter said it’s too effective to take off the market.

“There are a lot of people who benefit from this drug who are on Medicaid,” Baxter said. “The public and personal health risk is significant, the money being spent on Suboxone through Medicaid and Medicare is worth it.”

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