New TN law will allow the state to investigate complaints at Suboxone clinics


TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- Some Suboxone Clinics in Tennessee may have to change the way they do business to comply with a new state law that goes into effect January 12. For the first time, the state will have the power to regulate the doctors and clinics that prescribe the addiction medication by requiring many of them to apply for a license.

Under the new law, clinics will have to provide patients with individual treatment plans, care and drug testing. Clinics will also have to implement a plan cut down on drug diversion. State investigators will also have the authority to conduct annual inspections and investigate complaints at clinics.

“There’s a few things that we need to tighten up but the majority of everything that’s required we are already doing prior to it even becoming law,” said Penny McElroy, business development director at Watauga Recovery Centers Incorporated. WRC treats roughly 400 patients with addiction at its Johnson City location, prescribing Suboxone. “They’re [patients] getting drug tested every time they come in. They’re also having their pharmacy records reviewed to make sure they’re not diverting medication or getting medication from another source.”

WRC said they offer a wide range of services to their patients, including counseling, which is required under the new state rules. McElroy said, “We don’t really believe in treating just the illness by giving medication that’s why at Watauga Recovery Center we have so many other services because it’s not just making the cravings go away, it’s changing the behavior of the patient so they don’t continue to do this harmful behavior.

McElroy said she believes the new law will identify clinics with questionable operations. “There have been instances with physicians and other places that have not been above board in their prescribing habits… I think this will really go a long way in helping the diversion factor that we suffer from in East Tennessee as well as making sure that these patients are taken care of in the best way possible.”

While Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus thinks the law is a step in the right direction he has some concerns about the rules. The only clinics that must obtain a license are ones where 50 percent and 150 or more patients are being prescribed products containing buprenorphine, one of the active ingredients in Suboxone. Staubus said, “Why would you allow clinics and operations, smaller than that, to escape all these good rules and regulations you put into place?”

He said he is also concerned about what consequences clinics will face if they violate the mandates. “There ought to be an emphasis in the rules and regulations that should be geared towards a drug free sobriety… then that should be directed and manifested by the provider, not the patient. The provider should work towards that if possible,” Staubus said.

Staubus said he plans to take his concerns to lawmakers and lobbyists to see if any changes can be made to the law. “I’m hoping that this is just building a foundation and there [are] more steps that will come into play, either administratively or legislatively that will address the concerns that I have.”Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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