Attempting to kick your heroin addiction? Albuquerque’s own "Mystery Man" can help. According to NPR, he's “the drug dealer who helps addicts quit.”
As the state with the highest level of overall drug overdoses, New Mexico has its fair share of substance abuse woes. Yet addicts trying to ditch habits may have a hard time getting medical treatment they need. According to NPR’s Planet Money, drug users are having a hard time getting ahold of Suboxone, a prescription drug that helps heroin and pain pill addicts quit (less than 30 Albuquerque physicians are trained and certified to prescribe the drug, reports the ABQ Journal). So addicts are once again hitting up the black market—only this time, in search for a treatment. And that’s where the so-called Mystery Man comes in. NPR reports:
To get Suboxone, Mystery Man has to find a patient with a Suboxone prescription, and give that person the $50 co-pay to fill it. He gets that money by selling, among other things, crack and guns. He sells each pill for $5.
He says he notices a difference in his customers. "People don't overdose no more. They're just mellow," he says. "If you take it you won't be stealing, you won't be robbing, and you won't be prostituting."
But why do New Mexican addicts have to call on rehabilitation vigilantes rather than docs to get Suboxone? NPR explains:
Some physicians do prescribe Suboxone to treat addicts. But many do not.
"A lot of physicians are very resistant to prescribing Suboxone because they fear it will attract opiate addicts to their practices which brings with it a whole can of worms in terms of managing those clients," says Seth Williams, a nurse practitioner who treats the homeless in Albuquerque.
Scientists have long searched for a prescription to treat addiction. But companies were hesitant to develop one. Charles O'Keeffe is the former president and CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, the company that developed Suboxone. "There's not much money to be made in it," says O'Keeffe. "This is not a disease space that a lot of people want to treat."
Doctors say they hope new Medicaid billing rules issued by the state this month will encourage more physicians to write prescriptions for the addiction-fighting drug Suboxone by assuring they will be paid for their work.
The new rules direct the state’s Medicaid insurers to reimburse physicians $300 for an initial visit and standard fees for an unlimited number of follow-up visits with patients taking Suboxone. The change took effect July 1.
The new rules also give physicians greater authority over whom to treat by eliminating “prior authorization” that required physicians to get an insurance company’s approval before prescribing Suboxone to patients.
Suboxone is a brand-name drug used to treat people addicted to heroin and other opiates. Suboxone blocks the agonizing withdrawal symptoms that discourage addicts from kicking a drug habit.
New Mexico has experienced an epidemic of heroin addiction in recent years. Heroin related criminal charges have increased in Bernalillo County District Court to nearly 1,200 cases last year, up from 179 cases in 2006.
But fewer than 30 Albuquerque physicians are trained and certified to prescribe the drug, and addicts often have little success finding physicians to prescribe it, said Dr. Miriam Komaromy, medical director of the University of New Mexico’s Project Echo addiction treatment program.
Melanie Kruvelis|Jul. 27, 2012 10:22