Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Feds ease access to most common drug against opioid addiction

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By Danielle Ray and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Federal drug rules will soon loosen so that doctors can accommodate nearly triple the number of patients they can treat with the most common drug used to fight opioid addiction.

Under the regulation, which takes effect Aug. 5, doctors who are authorized to prescribe buprenorphine, commonly sold under the brand name Suboxone, can go from having a maximum of 100 patients on the drug to 275.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates between 10,000 and 90,000 new patients will be able to get buprenorphine in the first year as a result. Another 2,000 to 15,000 new patients should be able to get the treatment in subsequent years, Jayne O'Donnell reports in USA Today.

HHS also wants to eliminate potential financial incentives for doctors who prescribe opioids out of fear that patients will give them low marks in patient-experience surveys if they have pain after procedures.

Federal regulators are pushing Congress for about $1 billion in funding to increase treatment options across the country for the drug epidemic. They say it would get more doctors trained in buprenorphine, particularly in rural areas short of physicians who can prescribe the drug, White House Drug Policy Director Michael Botticelli told reporters. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the money is needed to combat the epidemic.

House and Senate conferees are debating the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which would improve treatment for addiction and overdoses and reform prescribe practices. The House version has no new money while the Senate version has $920 million and Democrats have vowed not to sign a report without significant funding, Botticelli said. The Senate version has bipartisan support and could be a re-election vehicle for some Republican senators and their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Kana Enomoto, principal deputy administrator of HHS's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said current drug law requires some limit on buprenorphine patuents. Many of those who commented on the proposed rule warned about the risk of the drug being diverted for illegal uses, she said.

Experts have cited this limit as a barrier to treatment for what is known as "opioid use disorder." Opioids are controlled substances used to treat pain. The rule aims to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and therapy for tens of thousands of people with opioid-use disorders, while preventing diversion, HHS says.

In another anti-opioid move, the Department of Veterans Affairs will require prescribers and pharmacists to check state prescription-drug monitoring databases before prescribing or dispensing opioids for pain. HHS is also launching more than a dozen new scientific studies on opioid misuse and pain treatment and seeking feedback to improve prescriber education programs.

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