A Buffalo doctor will be able to expand his treatment for opioid patients despite the government shutdown after an intervention from the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
And it's all happening despite some confusion over which government agency was responsible for the approval Dr. Anthony Martinez was seeking to be able to serve more patients.
Martinez contacted The Buffalo News last week to complain that federal regulations dictated that he could only prescribe suboxone, which helps wean addicts off opioids, to 100 patients.
Nearing that cap, Martinez applied for a government waiver to offer suboxone to up to 275 patients – but said the government shutdown was slowing his application for the waiver.
Enter Schumer, who contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration, which authorizes physicians to expand the number of patients they serve with drugs like suboxone – and which had appeared to lag behind on such approvals because of the shutdown.
"I am pleased we were able to work with the DEA to solve this life-or-death issue so professionals like Dr. Martinez can provide access to the sensitive drugs that help wean at-risk patients from addiction to deadly opioids," said Schumer, a New York Democrat. "Now patients in Buffalo, who were otherwise going to be turned away from care, will receive the addiction recovery services they need."
In addition, Schumer said the DEA clarified how it would handle such requests during the shutdown, which is slowing the agency's operations. If other physicians are experiencing the same problem Martinez faced, they should contact Schumer's office, the senator said.
The Buffalo News story on Martinez's situation misstated the reason why his application was not getting processed as quickly as he hoped. He had laid blame for the situation on the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration, which trains and certifies physicians to prescribe anti-opioid drugs like suboxone.
But the slowdown actually occurred at the DEA.
"SAMHSA ... has not been shut down and has been processing waiver applications continually," said Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration.
Garrett also noted that Martinez filed his application to expand his patient load on Jan. 4, only days before complaining to the News about the supposed delay.
Nevertheless, Martinez, an associate professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo who practices at Erie County Medical Center, said the News story "will save lives" by getting the government to process applications like his more quickly. He also credited Schumer for solving his problem.
Now, Martinez said, the government should simply end its cap on prescriptions of suboxone and other similar drugs so that more opioid patients can get treatment faster.