The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a proposal that allows qualified physicians to prescribe the opioid use disorder treatment medication, buprenorphine, to an increased number of patients.
According to HHS, the proposed change is designed to create an balance between expanding access to this important treatment, encouraging use of evidence-based medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and minimizing the risk of drug diversion.
“This proposal is an important step to increasing access to evidence-based treatment to help more people get the treatment necessary for their recovery and is critical in our comprehensive approach to addressing the serious opioid epidemic facing our nation,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.
Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved drug used as part of MAT, a comprehensive way to address the recovery needs of individuals that combines the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. Buprenorphine — because of its lower potential for abuse — is permitted to be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices, significantly increasing its availability to many patients. When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is safe and effective.
Existing evidence shows that this lifesaving, evidence-based treatment is under-utilized. Updating the regulations around the prescribing of buprenorphine-containing products, as proposed today, would help close this treatment gap.
Under current regulations, physicians that are certified to prescribe buprenorphine for MAT are allowed to prescribe up to 30 patients initially and then after one year can request authorization to prescribe up to a maximum of 100 patients. This cap on prescribing limits the ability of some physicians to prescribe to patients with opioid use disorder. If adopted, today’s proposal would allow for a qualified and currently waivered physician to prescribe buprenorphine for up to 200 patients.