Suboxone

Suboxone, an addiction drug, comes in film strips.

Wisconsin’s Medicaid program will cover a pill form of an addiction treatment drug, in addition to Suboxone film strips — a move sheriffs say might decrease smuggling of the film into jails but doesn’t fulfill their request to stop covering the film.

“Hopefully it will reduce (smuggling of the film) some,” said Nancy Hove, president of the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association. “The pill is easier for us to catch coming into the jails.”

Hove and Kim Gaffney, president of the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association, asked the state last month to stop covering Suboxone film. The strips “have quickly become a leading contraband item as they are thin and malleable strips that can easily be passed from individual to individual,” they wrote in a letter to Medicaid director Michael Heifetz.

A Medicaid pharmacy committee decided Wednesday to add Zubsolv, a pill, to its list of preferred medications for opioid dependency, state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said.

Suboxone film remains on the list, and three other medications are on a secondary list of drugs the state makes it harder for doctors to prescribe to Medicaid patients. Zubsolv had been on the secondary list.

Zubsolv, like Suboxone, is used to reduce cravings during treatment for addiction to opioids, such as oxycodone and heroin. Both prescription medications contain buprenorphine, which curbs cravings, and naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug, meant to prevent abuse.

Patients dissolve Suboxone film under their tongues. Inmates addicted to opioids but not receiving treatment might seek the strips to ease withdrawal, while others might use them to get high.

The sheriffs asked the state to switch to nonfilm buprenorphine products, which include tablets such as Zubsolv and an implant.

Though the pharmacy committee stopped short of ending coverage of Suboxone film, Gaffney said he was glad the group considered the sheriffs’ input.

“We never get totally what we ask for,” he said.

Shifting Medicaid patients from film to tablets could lead to more abuse overall because tablets can be crushed and snorted or dissolved and injected, Dr. Michael Miller, addiction treatment specialist, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month.

“You can’t inject the film. You can’t snort the film,” said Miller, medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc. “It deters intravenous use and nasal use in the community at large.”

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David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.