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NEW YORK — A bipartisan bill called the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act, introduced by New York representatives, is an attempt to remove barriers physicians face in prescribing certain classes of drugs for opioid addiction.
Currently, if doctors want to help their patients manage opioid addictions by prescribing “medically assisted treatments” (which is often also referred to as MAT) like buprenorphine—the first medication to treat opioid dependency that can be prescribed and dispensed in physicians’ offices—they need to apply for a waiver through the Drug Enforcement Administration. Buprenorphnie and other class III, IV and V long-acting opioids are used to treat opioid dependency by decreasing withdrawal effects and cravings for other opioids such as heroin. A number of representatives in Congress have called the waiver requirement for prescribing these drugs “outdated” and “redundant” as practitioners are already required to meet state requirements for prescribing controlled substances, and since they can prescribe buprenorphine as a pain reliever for other kinds of pain.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 130 people died from opioid overdoses each day in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. That year, nearly 48,000 people died from an overdose and roughly 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids.
“Our national response needs to rise to meet the unprecedented scale of this crisis,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) in a release about the MAT Act.
Health representatives from other states, including Delaware, California, Indiana and Maryland have also called for the removal of the required DEA waiver and amendments to the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000, which initially created the waiver requirement.
“The current requirements to obtain a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA 2000) place limits on the medical community’s capacity to respond to the needs of opioid-dependent individuals,” officials from state health departments wrote in a letter to Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The letter went on to say that “the need for buprenorphine has grown exponentially, while the supply of waived prescribers’ pales in comparison.”
Though more and more people are coming around to the idea of medically assisted treatment, some still oppose the idea as “trading one opioid for another.” Proponents of MAT say this is a myth and that data in other countries where MAT is easier for physicians to utilize, such as France, proves that opioid overdoses have been reduced due to its use.