HHS Seeks to Expand Prescriptions for Opioid Addiction Therapy


Buprenorphine is a medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed allowing physicians to prescribe buprenorphine for twice as many opioid-addicted patients as they do now.

Buprenorphine is a medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and certain physicians are permitted to prescribe or dispense the drug in their offices because it has low potential for abuse.

Under current usage guidelines, physicians looking to prescribe and dispense buprenorphine must participate in training before receiving a special Drug Enforcement Administration number.

Physicians certified to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder are currently permitted to prescribe it to up to 30 patients in their first year and then request authorization to prescribe it to up to 100 patients—a cap that HHS said “limits the ability of some physicians to prescribe to patients with opioid use disorder.”

If the HHS proposal is adopted, then qualified and currently waived physicians will be able to prescribe buprenorphine for up to 200 patients.

The Obama Administration announced the buprenorphine proposal at the recent National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit held in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Existing evidence shows that this lifesaving, evidence-based treatment is underutilized,” the administration posted on the White House blog. “Updating the regulations around the prescribing of buprenorphine-containing products…would help close this treatment gap.”

Advocates of the proposed prescription expansion feel that it’s especially critical for patients seeking help for an untreated opioid use disorder.

“In many cases, there are long patient waiting lists for prescribers who have reached the 100 patient limit,” explained Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto, in a press release. “Easing barriers to treatment is a major step to reducing prescription opioid- and heroin-related overdose, death, and dependence.”

However, health officials have stressed that it’s possible to abuse buprenorphine, and its use isn’t without risk. A study previously conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that buprenorphine is one of just a dozen drug ingredients to blame for nearly half of all emergency hospitalizations for unsupervised prescription drug ingestions among young children.

Beyond expanded buprenorphine access, HHS announced that SAMSHA would distribute 10,000 pocket guides for clinicians that include a checklist for prescribing medication for opioid use disorder treatment and integrating nonpharmacologic remedies into treatment.

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