WASHINGTON— With a record 2,110 fatal drug overdoses in Ohio in 2013, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will work with his Senate colleagues to reintroduce a bipartisan bill this week that will allow health care providers to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction to opioids like painkillers and heroin. 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 for patients. This week, Brown also called on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to reinstate the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) successful National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days.

“Opioid abuse has wreaked havoc across Ohio, devastating thousands of families. When it’s easier for Americans to access opioids than it is for them access help to treat their addiction, we have a serious problem,” said Brown. “We must ensure that there are a variety of treatment options available for those who need help battling addiction, including effective medication-assisted treatment. By allowing doctors to treat more patients and utilize medication-assisted treatment in combination with behavioral health support, we can change the course for treating opioid addiction for the better.”

Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that, when left untreated, places a large burden on the health care system. Deaths from opioid overdoses in the United States have increased by more than five times since 1980. In Ohio alone, a record 2,110 people died from unintentional drug overdose in 2013. Each year, about 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 medication-assisted treatment 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 medically-assisted treatment 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 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 healthcare services; diversion; impact on state level policies and legislation; and use of nurse practitioner and physician assistant prescribers.

This week, Brown is also seeking to get drugs out of wrongful hands through urging the DEA to reinstate its National Drug Take-Back Days. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Brown urged her to reinstate this program, which gives Americans the opportunity to turn over unwanted, unneeded, and expired medications so they don’t end up in the hands of people who may abuse them.

Full text of the letter is available here.