WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled a handful of measures intended to help curb the nation’s opioid epidemic, including a plan to permit doctors to double the number of patients who may receive a medication used to combat drug addiction.
Currently, qualified physicians are allowed to prescribe the drug buprenorphine to 100 patients each, a cap set to ensure the safe use of a medication that can be addictive in and of itself. The administration’s plan would permit each doctor to treat 200 patients with the drug.
President Obama formally unveiled the plan during a summit on prescription drug abuse in Atlanta, and the Department of Health and Human Services will issue the proposed rule.
More than 2.1 million Americans are addicted to opioid painkillers, and another 500,000 are hooked on heroin. Almost 30,000 die each year — a number that has placed the issue front and center for both the White House and Congress.
In recent months, the administration has announced a series of steps in an effort to ease the crisis.
In its latest budget request, the White House requested $1.1 billion for combating opioid abuse, and the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines designed to discourage doctors from prescribing strong painkillers.
Last week, the FDA said that some prescription painkillers would be required to include new warning labels highlighting the risk of abuse, overdose, addiction, and death.
The use of buprenorphine and other drugs to treat addiction, however, has generated controversy, with some critics saying one opiate should not be used to cure dependence on another.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest described buprenorphine as “evidence-based treatment.”
“The proposed rule aims to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and behavioral health supports for tens of thousands of people with opioid use disorders,” he said in a statement.
Obama also announced the creation of a task force to advance access to mental health and substance-use disorder treatment, and a plan to improve access to substance abuse services for people enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
In connection with the announcement, a group of more than 60 medical schools said that beginning next fall, they will require all students to take some form of prescriber education.
15 years of overdose deaths in the US
Explore the interactive visualization below to learn more about overdose deaths caused by narcotics and hallucinogens from 1999 to 2014. The vertical axis shows the number of people who died from a drug-related overdose in a year. The colored bands represent different types of drugs. "Other opioids" include morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. The "other synthetic narcotics" category includes fentanyl, propoxyphene, and meperidine. Click on the colored bands to see the data broken down by drug type. Click on the arrows above the chart or the age groups at the bottom to see the data broken down by age.