March 31, 2016
By: Kana Enomoto, Principle Deputy Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Richard Frank, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHSThe opioid problem won’t wait. Seventy-eight people die every day in the United States from an opioid overdose. Nearly 2.2 million Americans struggle every day with an addiction to opioid pain medications or illegal opioids like heroin. Opioid addiction, also called opioid use disorder, is a complex disease associated with chronic drug use, high-risk behavior, and a host of other medical and behavioral complications.
Recovery is possible. The good news is that we have treatments that we know are effective, using a combination of medication, counseling and other supports – known as medication assisted treatment (MAT). The more disappointing news is that more than half the people who could use treatment are not able to get it, in large part because they can’t afford it or can’t find providers. We can do better and we must.
The Department of Health and Human Services is taking bold steps to improve access to treatment, especially to MAT with buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. The federal government cannot address all the barriers to treatment, but we will take action where we can to make it easier for people to get the treatment that can turn their lives around – and often times save their lives.
The proposed regulation we issued this week seeks to ease one of these barriers - the limit on the number of patients a physician can treat with buprenorphine at a given time. Right now physicians can only treat up to 100 patients at a time with buprenorphine. While this limit has increased over time (the Drug Addiction and Treatment Act of 2000, DATA 2000, limited physicians to 30 patients), one might wonder why there is a limit at all. We have heard from physicians, addiction specialists and others that the caseload limit of 100 is too low and can mean that some people who need treatment do not get it.
READ MORE: Improving Access to Treatment: Expanding reach of Buprenorphine