A shift in policy could mean increased access to buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist drug used to treat opioid addiction. On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that the Health and Human Services (HHS) agency would rewrite regulations that have been preventing opioid addicts from getting the drug, The Huffington Post reports. The announcement was made at a conference on opioid addiction in Northern Virginia and was met with applause from doctors, treatment experts and public health officials.
“We have heard from many stakeholders and leaders that the current capacity does not meet the current demand. So today I’m proud to announce that our department will revise the regulations related to buprenorphine to safely and effectively increase access,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.
In the past few months there have been a number of steps taken by the HHS to both deter and treat opioid addiction. In July, the agency announced that $100 million would be made available to expand access to treatment services. The funds, made available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), would also be use for expanding medication-assisted treatment access.
“We need to lift people out of opioid-use disorder through medication-assisted treatment,” said Burwell. “This epidemic is multifaceted, and we need to respond with the best solutions that medicine and behavioral therapy can provide together.” “So we need to increase the use of buprenorphine, which can help us treat opioid use disorder when combined with psycho-social support.”
The current rules for prescribing buprenorphine (sold as Suboxone ®) only allow doctors who are certified to write prescriptions for up to 30 patients initially and as many as a hundred patients after a year, according to the article. The HHS revisions are “to provide a balance between expanding the supply of this important treatment, encouraging the use of evidence-based [medication-assisted treatment], and minimizing the risk of drug diversion,” the department said in a press release.