WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the urging of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) and the introduction of legislation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced that it would revise regulations to expand the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence. With a record 2,110 fatal drug overdoses in Ohio in 2013 alone, Brown called on HHS to increase access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for patients struggling with opioid addiction.
“This is an important step for the alarming number of Americans facing opioid addiction,” Brown said. “When used in combination with counseling and therapy, medication-assisted treatment of opioid abuse can help individuals overcome addition. Today’s announcement is a relief for communities in Ohio and across the country where opioid abuse has ruined lives and torn apart families. This revision will save lives and give the health community access to more effective treatment options.”
Today during a meeting of all 50 states and the District of Columbus on preventing opioid overdose and abuse, HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell announced that HHS will revise its regulations related to the prescribing of products containing buprenorphine, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of opioid dependence.
In a letter to Secretary Burwell last month, Brown and 12 of his Senate colleagues urged her to raise the cap on the number of patients a physician can treat using MAT each year. Of the approximately 2.5 million Americans who abused or were dependent on opioids in 2012, fewer than 40 percent received medication-assisted therapy for their condition.
Federal law currently limits the capacity for physicians and other health care providers to treat opioid abuse. Under current law, physicians must meet specific conditions and apply for a special waiver in order to be authorized to prescribe certain opioid addiction medicines, like buprenorphine. Further, physicians are prohibited from treating more than 30 patients during their first year with a waiver, and are restricted to treating only 100 patients per year afterwards. This has led to long waitlists for treatment and has made it more difficult for patients to receive the treatment they need.
Brown is a cosponsor of The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act, bipartisan legislation reintroduced in May that would remove the cap on the number of patients physicians with proven track records of success can treat using MAT. Additionally, the bill would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are properly licensed, trained, and supervised to treat up to 100 patients per year.