Groundbreaking agreement by Philly's major health systems promises more addiction treatment access

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia's health care community has put together an unprecedented strategy for tackling the opioid epidemic, and it could make medically assisted treatment available to thousands more people seeking to get off of opioids.

The Jefferson, Temple, Einstein and Penn medicine systems and the city's Health Department will get all of their primary care providers the special training and the waivers required to prescribe the anti-addiction drug buprenorphine. 

Health Commissioner Tom Farley says that means a total of 400 more providers with the ability to treat patients with addiction disorders.

"These commitments by these major health systems represent fundamental and needed change in how medical care treats people who are addicted to opioids. In the future, it will be the norm that if you need treatment, you can get it from your regular doctor," Farley said.

Farley says addiction treatment has mostly relied on specialized programs, but with primary care doctors able to prescribe buprenorphine, treating addiction could become more like treating any chronic illness, such as diabetes.

Mayor Jim Kenney says the agreement grows out of the recognition of addiction as an illness like any other.

"These communities will bring us closer to a day when getting treatment for opioid addiction will be as easy as getting treatment for diabetes or high blood pressure," Kenney said. 

Penn Medicine's associate chief medical officer David Horowitz says the system welcomed the chance to be part of the new effort.

"It is especially gratifying for me to be here to discuss a topic around which we can all galvanize and unify," Horowitz said. 

The city's goal is to get 800 doctors trained. It estimates that would give an additional 16,000 drug users access to treatment.