By Frank Lewis
With a record 2,110 fatal drug overdoses in Ohio in 2013 alone, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for patients struggling with opioid addiction.
In a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Brown and 12 of his Senate colleague 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.
“Too many communities in Ohio and across the country have been affected by the growing public health crisis caused by opioid use,” Brown said. “We’ve got a problem when it’s easier for Americans to get drugs than it is for them to get help to break their addiction. By ensuring that more health professionals can treat prescription drug abuse through proven medication-assisted therapy, we can save lives and strengthen our communities.”
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 legally disallowed 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.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928.