Addiction, Opioids, University of Washington

King County launches ‘bup’ hotline.


Ellis Johnson
Public Health — Seattle & King County/Public Heatlh Insider

Leer en español

Thanks to a new 24/7 ‘bup’ prescribing hotline, it’s easier than ever for people in King County to get started on medication to treat opioid use disorder. In partnership with the UW Department of Emergency Medicine, King County recently launched a telemedicine program that will provide on-demand access to a buprenorphine prescription, also known as “bup”.

We sat down with Dr. Lauren Whiteside and Dr. Chris Buresh, leaders of this program at the UW Department of Emergency Medicine and providers on the hotline, to learn more about buprenorphine and how the hotline is expanding access to compassionate, evidence-based care in King County.

What is buprenorphine? How does it work?

Buprenorphine, also called suboxone, is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. It is one of the best available treatments to alleviate withdrawal, reduce cravings, and reduce overdose risk by about half when taken as directed. It works by binding to the same receptors that opioids like fentanyl bind to, but it only turns them on about halfway. That keeps people from feeling sick and helps with their cravings.

A postcard promoting the 24 hour bupe line. Text reads: On Demand Bup, 206-289-0289, providers available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Why are we making medications like bup more widely available and easier to access?

Buprenorphine is a very safe and effective medication for treating opioid use disorder. It can help people stop or significantly cut down on their use of other opioids by reducing cravings to use and preventing withdrawal symptoms, which make people very sick and lead to a very intense urge to use, regardless of the consequences. Buprenorphine significantly reduces the risk of opioid overdose if other opioids, like fentanyl, are used in addition to the buprenorphine. Signs of overdose include being unresponsive and breathing abnormally, like slow, shallow, or no breathing, and abnormal breathing sounds like gasping, gurgling, or snoring. 

Any doctor can prescribe buprenorphine, so you can access the medication directly from your pharmacy.

We hope that people feel that they can reach out whenever they need us to get science-based, compassionate care. Call (206) 289-0287 anytime to connect to the hotline.

How does the hotline work? Can anyone call & get a prescription?

If you are 13 or older in King County, you can call (206) 289-0287 any time, day or night, to get a prescription. You’ll have a free phone visit with one of the 13 University of Washington Emergency Medicine physicians. We’ll ask some questions about your health and opioid use and send a buprenorphine prescription to the pharmacy of your choice to start treatment as soon as possible. Our linkage to care team will also follow up within 72 hours to connect to ongoing care.

When did the line launch? How has it been going so far?

The hotline launched on January 2, 2024. We’ve received over 80 calls so far from all over the county. We’ve received calls from a huge range of ages, and have even treated multiple generations within a few families. People have been excited about the service and grateful for the help, and a lot of people are doing very well afterward. It’s one of the most professionally rewarding things that I’ve been a part of in my career.

Anything else you want people to know?

We want to be available for people when they are ready for help! The people who are at the very highest risk of dying are folks who have recently had a non-fatal overdose or people who have not used for a while but are having a lot of cravings, like people who are just leaving incarceration. We hope that people feel that they can reach out whenever they need us to get science-based, compassionate care.

Call (206) 289-0287 anytime to connect to the hotline.

How can providers interested in connecting patients to the line learn more?

We invite providers who are interested in learning more to get an overview of how this call line works at our upcoming webinar and Q&A on Wednesday, April 3 at 12 pm. Register here.

Originally published March 25, 2024.