As of Wednesday, November 16, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are allowed to begin the required training needed to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder.
Once they complete the 24 hours of training, nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be allowed to apply for a waiver to prescribe the medication for as many as 30 patients per year beginning in 2017. Before the Unites States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) passed this new rule, only physicians were allowed to prescribe buprenorphine to patients. Kana Enomoto, the Principal Deputy Administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the organization that administers the training, commented on the new rule in an HHS press release:
“Today’s action will provide even more access to medication-assisted treatment. Allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine will greatly expand access to quality, evidence-based treatment methods for those most in need of assistance.”
SAMHSA will provide training at no cost through the Provider’s Clinical Support System – Medication Assisted Treatment program. Training programs will also be available through a number of other organizations, including:
- American Academy of Physician Assistants
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Nurses Credentialing Center
- American Osteopathic Association
- American Medical Association
- American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
- American Society of Addiction Medicine
HHS also announced their intent to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants who have reached their 30 patient limit to apply for a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine to an additional 70 patients per year, up to a total of 100. This, combined with SAMHSA’s waiver announced in July, would further improve medical professionals’ ability to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to patients dealing with opiate addiction.
The previous waiver allowed practitioners who were already allowed to prescribe buprenorphine to 100 patients per year to apply for a waiver to prescribe the potentially life-saving drug to as many as 275 patients per year. In order to obtain this additional waiver, practitioners would need to practice in a qualified setting as defined by the rule, or have additional credentials in addiction psychiatry or addiction medicine from a professional society and /or a specialty medical board. When this waiver was first announced, HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell commented that:
“The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States. More Americans now die from drug overdoses than car crashes, and these overdoses have hit families from every walk of life and across our entire nation. At HHS, we are helping to lead the nationwide effort to address the opioid epidemic by taking a targeted approach focused on prevention, treatment, and intervention. These actions build on this approach. However, if we truly want to turn the tide on this epidemic, Congress should approve the President’s $1.1 billion budget request for this work.”
Since the waiver became available in July, 2,477 practitioners have applied for and received approval to prescribe buprenorphine to the increased number of patients.
The fight to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine to patients in need has been a drawn out and passionate ordeal. Back in December of 2017, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin led a group of governors to call for this change before going in front of Congress to plead his case. His office released a press release once the news broke yesterday, and Governor Shumlin said that:
“This is really great news for those addicted to opiates who are ready to get help and those of us fighting to put an end to the addiction crisis in America. By allowing more medical professionals to prescribe these treatments, we will hopefully further reduce waitlists and get more Vermonters and Americans into recovery. It was absolutely crazy to many of us that we were allowing a wide variety of medical professionals to prescribe FDA-approved painkillers that we know can lead to a lifetime of addiction, while restricting who could help once addiction took hold. With the intensity and severity of the opiate crisis, we need all hands on deck. This is a big step in the right direction.”
This increased access to potentially life-saving medication-assisted treatment could play a big part in helping the countless Americans struggling with addiction. At Schick Shadel Hospital, we have spent the past 80 plus years helping tens of thousands of people overcome their addiction through our counter conditioning program. If you are looking to take the first step in regaining control of your life, give us a call at (800) 272-8464 to learn more about how we can help, or send us a confidential message through our online form