Doctors will no longer have to take special training to prescribe opioid that is used to treat addiction but is short of prescribers

The federal government has lifted extra requirements for doctors who want to prescribe buprenorphine, a partial opioid that is used to help drug users beat addiction. That will be a boon for rural areas, including most of Kentucky, that have a disporportionate share of overdoses and a shortage of doctors willing to prescribe it.

Gone is “a time-consuming process that both discouraged doctors from prescribing the drug and created an unhelpful stigma around the medication, advocates say,” Krista Mahr and Daniel Payne report for Politico Pulse. “As deaths from opioid overdoses reached record numbers, access to buprenorphine remained elusive: Just 11 percent of people diagnosed with opioid use disorder received FDA-approved medication in 2020.

That changed with the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act, “which was added to the year-end omnibus bill passed in December,” Politico reports. “Practitioners who want to prescribe buprenorphine to their patients will still be required to get a DEA license, as they would any other controlled substance like morphine or Xanax. But they won’t have to face additional administrative requirements that have slowed down patient access to the drug for years.”

The action by Congress superseded the plan of the Department of Health and Human Services, whch said last April that it would allow most medical providers to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder without being trained and getting a waiver. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine said in the press release that rural patients seeking such therapy can have a hard time accessing it because of transportation issues and the relative lack of qualified prescribers. But buprenorphine can be prescribed for a month at a time and taken at home, meaning rural patients don’t have to travel so much, and can easily get it even at mobile clinics. About 40 percent of U.S. counties don’t have a health-care who is approved to prescribe buprenorphine, an active ingredient in Suboxone, the preferred drug in medication-assisted treatment for substance-use disorder, according to a federal report.

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