The Biden administration is lifting decades-old requirements for prescribing addiction treatment drug. The old rules were making it hard for physicians to treat opioid addiction with medication.
According to new guidelines issued on Tuesday, physicians and other health care workers will no longer require more hours of preparation to administer buprenorphine, a standard drug that deals with addictions. Furthermore, they are no longer required to refer patients to counseling programs.
Prescribers will handle up to 30 patients at a time with the medication under the new rules. It is available as a pill or a film that dissolves under the tongue. It costs about $100 a month.
Because of the way opioids affect the brain, people who get addicted to them become ill if they stop taking them. Adverse reactions include sweating, anxiety, and insomnia. The drug’s cravings can be so severe that relapse is common.
Buprenorphine aids patients by transitioning them from strong painkillers or an addictive drug such as opium to a daily dosage of safe opioid-based medicine.
The Trump administration attempted to enact a similar change, but it would have only been applicable to physicians. The Biden administration postponed the matter for a legal and policy analysis, ultimately agreeing to extend the easier rules to more prescribers.
“What it does is provide more on-ramps to treatment,” said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This will help in health centers, hospitals, jails, and prisons – places where these folks sometimes show up for treatment.”
Stricter rules will remain for prescribers who intend to have over 30 patients at a time. The American Medical Association cheered the decision and encouraged Congress to abolish all remaining barriers to prescribing buprenorphine.
“Patients are struggling to find physicians who are authorized to prescribe buprenorphine; onerous regulations discourage physicians from being certified to prescribe it,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, leader of the AMA’s opioid task force.
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The prescription guidelines date back to laws enacted in 2000 to discourage too-easy access to a drug that could be abused. However, only a few physicians followed the preparation procedure, and patients in certain parts of the country could not locate a prescriber.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has increased. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 90,000 drug overdose deaths in the year ended September, the most ever recorded in a one year.
“The change will increase the number of prescribers and the number of patients who receive prescriptions,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, Assistant Health Secretary.