The United States eases restrictions on buprenorphine, a drug that helps curb opioid cravings, amid record overdose deaths.
The US Department of Health and Human Services announced new rules to make it easier to prescribe a drug that helps people with opioid addiction.
The guidelines announced on Tuesday mean doctors and other health workers will no longer need additional hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine, a benchmark drug that helps alleviate cravings. And they no longer have to refer patients to counseling services.
Acting director of the Bureau of National Drug Control Policy Regina LaBelle told a news briefing that the United States is seeing a record number of overdose deaths with the “majority of those who have died this year. year so far from a overdose involving opioids, mainly illicitly manufactured fentanyl ”.
Drug overdose deaths in the United States have increased during the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 90,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in September, the highest number on record registered in a single year. There is no data for all of 2020 yet, and the numbers are preliminary.
LaBelle, appointed to her post by President Joe Biden in January, said “removing barriers to quality treatment is a top political priority for this administration.”
Under the relaxed guidelines, prescribers will be able to treat up to 30 patients at a time with the drug. It comes in the form of a pill or film that dissolves under the tongue. It costs around $ 100 per month. A common version of buprenorphine is Suboxone.
Stricter requirements will remain for prescribers who wish to treat more than 30 patients at a time.
Because of the way opioids work in the brain, people who depend on them get sick if they stop using it. Withdrawal can feel like a bad flu with cramps, sweating, anxiety, and sleeplessness. The cravings for this medication can be so intense that relapses are common.
Buprenorphine helps by switching a patient from strong pain relievers or an illicit opioid such as heroin to a regular dose of a legal opioid drug.
In addition to doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and some other types of nurses will be able to prescribe buprenorphine without first having received special training.
The Trump administration attempted to make a similar change in its final days, but that would only have applied to doctors.
the Biden administration put the matter on hold for legal and policy review, ultimately deciding to extend the easier guidelines to more prescribers.
Prescribing requirements date back to the 2000 legislation aimed at preventing too easy access to drugs with its own potential for abuse. But only a small number of doctors have gone through the stages, and in many parts of the country patients have not been able to find a prescriber. Ironically, doctors could prescribe buprenorphine for the pain without additional training.