In letter to HHS, bipartisan group of lawmakers urge agency to expand access to medication-assisted therapy

Boston (August 18, 2015) – With the latest data in Massachusetts indicating the heroin and prescription drug crisis worsening faster than originally recognized, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and a bipartisan group of Senators in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase access to specialized treatment for opioid addiction. In a letter sent to HHS, the Senators call on the agency to use its full authority to raise the cap on the number of patients that a physician can treat with medication-assisted therapies, including buprenorphine (also called Suboxone). Despite studies showing medication-assisted therapies to be highly effective, there is significant under treatment due to federal limitations. In 2012, of the 2.5 million Americans who abused or were dependent on opioids, fewer than one million received medication-assisted therapy.
“While effective medications to treat opioid disorders exist, federal regulations continue to limit access to these treatments. These restrictions have created a huge disparity between those who can prescribe opioids and those who can prescribe treatments for opioid addiction,” write the Senators in the letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Lifting the cap under specific circumstances or other measures to increase access would enable physicians to treat more patients with these highly effective drugs and improve and increase access to quality and comprehensive opioid treatment programs.”
A copy of the letter to HHS can be found HERE.
The letter to HHS is also signed by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
In May, Senators Markey and Paul introduced The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT Act) (S.1455), legislation that would expand the ability of addiction medical specialists and other trained medical professionals to provide life-saving medication-assisted therapies like bupernorphine. While emphasizing addiction medicine expertise and quality, the legislation lifts existing and arbitrary federal restrictions that are non-existent for any other disease and limit access to life saving therapies.