Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced new rules Wednesday to loosen restrictions on doctors who treat people addicted to heroin and opioid painkillers with the medication buprenorphine.
Michael Botticelli, director of national drug control policy, said that while the bill includes important provisions that the administration has worked on, a "robust infusion of treatment resources" is needed to start ending the epidemic.
"The overall treatment gap for all substance use disorders is between 80 percent and 90 percent, including opioid use disorders", Boticelli said.
In the interim 15 years, more than 165,000 have died from prescription opioids alone. The new policy is effective immediately for more than 1,200 IHS clinicians working in IHS federally operated facilities who are authorized to prescribe opioids.
Research has shown that recovering addicts who do not manage their dependence with medication are significantly more likely to relapse into illicit drug use than people who take buprenorphine, which is often sold under the brand name Suboxone, or other medications including methadone and naltrexone.
Behshad Sheldon, CEO of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which is licensed to sell Probuphine in the US, welcomed the expansion of the prescription cap, but said more should be done to increasing access to opioid use treatment.
One of the ways HHS is working to stem the overprescribing of opioids is by providing prescribers with access to the tools and education they need to make informed decisions.
However, to prevent any potential confusion on the part of providers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing to remove the HCAHPS survey pain management questions from the hospital scoring calculation.
Burwell also said Health and Human Services is launching more than a dozen new studies of opioid misuse and pain treatment. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is also working on best practices to support using medication-assisted treatment programs in some of their grant programs.
Opioids are controlled substances that are typically used to treat pain.