In many parts of the U.S., the number of people addicted to opioids far exceeds the capacity of doctors willing and authorized to treat them. A California doctor who killed a patient in self-defense says, “Treating addiction is a very tough job–many doctors won’t do it.”
In Bakersfield, Ca., David Lang’s widow, Monique, says she has no clue why the 33-year-old combat veteran and father who struggled with opioid addiction ended up fatally shot last year by a doctor, Edwin Zong, The Atlantic reports. Local authorities concluded that Zong acted in self-defense and he faced no charges The doctor believes he was targeted for robbery. “I was lucky I wasn’t killed,” he told Kaiser Health News. “Treating addiction is a very tough job, many doctors won’t do it.”
The tragedy that played out in Zong’s office speaks to a dangerous trend: In many parts of the U.S., the number of people addicted to opioids far exceeds the capacity of doctors willing and authorized to treat them. That is particularly true when it comes to professionals like Zong who dispense Suboxone or Subutex, both formulations of buprenorphine, which is widely considered the optimal addiction treatment because it all but erases opioid-withdrawal symptoms without creating a significant high. One reason for the shortage of providers is that doctors must take eight hours of training to prescribe the medication and apply for a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration, because the medicine is itself an opioid. Few doctors are willing to check all those boxes and take on the sometimes difficult patients who seek the drug. Access remains a huge obstacle, even as the Food and Drug Administration is seeking to broaden the medications available for opioid treatment. Doctors who accept opioid patients, whether motivated by profit or compassion, can become overwhelmed, seeing far more than their offices can handle.