HHS loosens regulations to make prescribing addiction treatment easier

Local News

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The Biden Administration has loosened restrictions on prescribing medication to treat opioid use disorder Tuesday. In a move to increase access as the CDC states overdose deaths have climbed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

First News at Nine’s Phoebe Murray explains what the new guidelines entail and how it may affect more rural areas where a lack of physicians exists.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released federal guidelines that allow more providers to prescribe a drug proven to reduce opioid relapses and overdose deaths, called buprenorphine.

The hope is to expand access to treatment in rural areas which can often lack easy access to a physician and where opioid usage is rising.

“Opioid use in the last four months has increased significantly for us; we’ve had more cases from January to April of this year than we did in all of 2020,” says Lee Engfer, Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy.

He says so far in 2021 Buffalo County has seen 3 times the amount of opioid cases from 2020.

“Those problems kind of filter down to us and it just takes a little longer to get here sometimes but they’re definitely coming in our door now and we’re trying to address those,” says Engfer.

Currently, doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners must undergo a separate training and apply for a waiver before they’re allowed to prescribe the drug to patients.

“The changes that have now been made is they are eliminating the X-waiver for 30 patients and no longer requiring the training to treat up to 30 patients in an office space setting,” says Kristi Burdik, Prevea Health nurse practitioner.

For years public health advocates have argued the X-waiver poses a barrier to basic care for patients with opioid addiction.

Burdik says the new guidelines could be a step in the right direction.

“The plus side of this is those practitioners that have had some type of addiction training in their formal education would no longer have the barrier of having to go through either the 8-hour course or the 24-hour course to receive the X-waiver for up to 30 patients,” Burdik says.

But she believes the elimination of this baseline training could be a mistake.

“This is not just a simple everyday medication there is a lot to know about it and there is a lot to addiction treatment,” says Burdik. “Addiction treatment is not just about a medication it is a multi-disciplinary approach.”

Burdick says there is still work to be done.

In Eau Claire Phoebe Murray, First News at Nine.

According to the CDC more than 87,000 Americans died of overdoses during the 12-month period that ended in September 2020.

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