Welcome to a New Tramadol Nightmare

Why were two opiate rehabs forced to close their doors over Tramadol use?

People seeking safe opiate detox in Alaska were recently left out in the cold – in more ways than one. Only two state facilities currently offer detox services to Alaskans – and both of them were recently shut down, thanks to one of the DEAs newer classification regulations.

Red Tape to the Rescue?

Neither of the detox facilities were administering new or highly controversial drugs; they weren’t understaffed or under-financed. So…what changed?

One word: Tramadol.

The drug itself didn’t change, but its DEA classification did. In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration re-classified tramadol, making it a Schedule IV controlled substance. What does this mean? The drug now has additional regulations on its use. Specifically, the DEA ruled that only DEA-certified medical providers could administer tramadol for detox.

What that ruling translated to in Alaska was a shutdown of detox programs. The physician’s assistants that were administering tramadol could no longer legally do so. They didn’t have the newly required DEA-certification, which meant they were violating federal regulations. Without qualified staff on-site, both facilities could no longer take opiate detox patients.

Tramadol 101

Tramadol is an opiate, but it’s often used to wean people off other opiates such as Oxycontin or heroin. Once thought of as a “safe alternative” to opiates, tramadol abuse has become a real issue. In fact, it was the rising tide of tramadol abuse that ultimately prompted the DEA to change its classification.

  • In 2011, tramadol sent over 20,000 people to the emergency room.
  • In 2012, 3.2 million people used Tramadol for non-medical purposes.

Two years after the classification change, both Alaska detox centers realized they had been operating in violation of the new federal standards. Hoping to avoid huge fines and stiff penalties, facility directors shut the doors and self-reported to the DEA.

What Happens Now?

The Ernie Turner Center in Anchorage and the Gateway to Recovery Center in Fairbanks offered the only opiate detox beds in the state of Alaska. Staff at both facilities are currently working on plans that will eventually allow them to offer safe opiate detox without violating regulations. With our nation’s opiate epidemic showing no signs of slowing, there’s simply no time to waste. We need all hands on deck.

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