WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan bill cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that would enable health care providers to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction to opioids today passed out of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT Act) would update U.S. law to enable qualified physicians to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction and, for the first time, allow certain nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide supervised, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for patients. The bill now awaits action in the full U.S. Senate.
“Addiction is not a character flaw – it’s a chronic disease and people need our help to fight it. But right now, it’s often easier for those struggling with addiction to access opioids than it is for them to get the help they need,” said Brown. “To change that, we must remove the barriers that prevent willing providers from treating more patients and leave patients languishing on waiting lists, unable to access treatment.
“In addition to removing these barriers to treatment, we must also invest in prevention and recovery initiatives to truly make progress in our fight against this epidemic.”
Deaths from opioid overdoses in the United States have increased by more than five times since 1980. In Ohio alone, a record 2,482 people died from unintentional drug overdose in 2014. Each year, more than 475,000 emergency room visits are attributable to the misuse and abuse of opioid pain killers across the U.S.
Current law limits the number of patients a health care provider can treat for opioid abuse problems using MAT programs. Physicians must meet specific conditions and apply for a special waiver to prescribe certain opioid addiction medications, like buprenorphine. They are restricted from treating more than 30 patients during their first year and limited to treating only 100 patients per year after their first year. This has left patients to languish on waiting lists for MAT and has created barriers to patient access to combination behavioral and medical treatment.
The TREAT Act would:
- Increase the number of patients providers are initially allowed to treat from 30 patients to 100 patients per year during their first year of certification for treatment.
- Allow certain physicians to request removal of the limit on the number of patients they can treat after one year.
- Allow qualified nurse practitioners and physician assistants, operating within their state scope of practice, to treat up to 100 patients per year.
- Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine changes in treatment availability and utilization; quality of treatment programs; integration with routine health care services; diversion; impact on state level policies and legislation; and use of nurse practitioner and physician assistant prescribers.