Under pressure to do something to curb the lingering opioid crisis, the Biden administration loosened regulations Tuesday so medical personnel may more easily prescribe buprenorphine to patients. The drug is administered to patients addicted to narcotics, like opioids.
Up until now, even as the opioid crisis raged, buprenorphine has only been allowed to be prescribed by medical doctors who met proper training requirements and obtained a permit.
Tuesday’s changes do away with one training requirement and will allow a larger percentage of health workers to prescribe the drug, which is highly addictive itself. The new move will force more training to prescribers working with 30 or more patients.
The Biden administration drew criticism for rescinding an order that would have allowed more access to buprenorphine. It was made in the waning days of the Trump administration and had been supported by many in the addiction-treatment community.
The Practice Guidelines for the Administration of Buprenorphine for Treating Opioid Use Disorder “exempt eligible physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists and certified nurse midwives from federal certification requirements related to training, counseling and other ancillary services that are part of the process for obtaining a waiver to treat up to 30 patients with buprenorphine.”
The new order was signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The move was saluted, somewhat hesitantly, by advocates. Though acknowledging that the restrictions could cause problems for some emergency room doctors, Dr. Patrice Harris, head of the American Medical Association’s opioid task force, told NPR the new guidelines were a “step in the right direction.”
More than 70,000 Americans died from drug-involved overdoses in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. More recent figures indicate more than 90,000 Americans died during the 12-month period ending in September 2020.