With the U.S. in the thick of what’s been called a prescription-painkiller epidemic, the Health and Human Services Department announced plans to change a rule restricting doctors from prescribing medication to treat opioid abuse.
Coupling medicine with counseling and behavioral therapy is a comprehensive path to recovery, according to HHS, but of the 2.5 million people who need treatment for an opioid use disorder, less than 1 million people are receiving it. The Thursday announcement—aimed at increasing access to treatment—focuses on a regulation limiting the number of prescriptions doctors can write for buprenorphine, a medicine used to combat painkiller and heroin dependence.
The current rule: Physicians certified to prescribe the medication, at first, can only do so for 30 patients. After a year, they can be allowed to write prescriptions for up to 100 patients. The department announced this would change, but fell short of saying exactly what the new regulation would be.
“This epidemic is multifaceted, and we need to respond with the best solutions that medicine and behavioral therapy can provide together,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Thursday at a two-day, 50-state meeting aimed at finding solutions to the rise in opioid use. “So we need to increase the use of buprenorphine, which can help us treat opioid use disorder when combined with psycho-social support.”