Senator and Dr. Rand Paul of Kentucky along with Senators Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), and Susan Collins (Maine) introduced legislation this week to expand access to treatment for opioid addiction called the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act of 2018.

Image/Video Screen Shot
Image/Video Screen Shot

The legislation codifies a 2016 regulation that expanded the number of patients qualified physicians could treat with life-saving medication-assisted therapies such as buprenorphine (also called Suboxone) from 100 to 275.

The legislation also builds upon a pilot program established in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), signed into law in 2016, allowing non-physician qualified health practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine, making this authorization permanent and expanding the types of professionals who qualify.

Senators Markey and Paul are the original authors of the provision in the law, modified for inclusion in CARA, that for the first time allowed trained nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to provide life-saving medication-assisted therapies to those suffering from opioid use disorders. More than 42,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2016.

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“Senator Markey and I had previously worked to, for the first time, allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine to patients with opioid addiction, and a version of our proposal became law in 2016 as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), Dr Paul said.

“This bill would build on our progress by making that authority permanent and expanding the types of professionals who can prescribe the treatment.”

“Reducing the supply for heroin, fentanyl, and illicit prescription drugs means we have to reduce the demand through treatment,” said Senator Markey.“Medication-assisted therapies are helping to save lives in Massachusetts, and making it possible for Americans to work and participate in the lives of their families. Expanding the availability of this important tool and putting it in the hands of qualified medical professionals will help reduce waitlists and offer hope to patients suffering from opioid addiction. I thank Senators Paul, Hassan and Collins for their bipartisan commitment to getting treatment to those who desperately need it.”

Sen Ed Markey Image/US Senate
Sen Ed Markey
Image/US Senate

The legislation is supported by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Nurses Association, American Association of Nurse Practitioners, American Academy of Physician Assistants, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Related: Rand Paul, bipartisan group of Senators call on HHS to follow Senate lead in increasing access to opioid addiction treatment

“The American Society of Addiction Medicine is grateful to Senators Markey, Paul, Hassan and Collins for their leadership in crafting smart addiction treatment policy, and we are pleased to endorse this bill,” said American Society of Addiction Medicine President Kelly Clark, MD, MBA, DFASAM. “Solidifying into law the recent gains we’ve made in treatment access, and ending arbitrary time for healthcare providers to treat patients, will ensure that we can continue to improve access for evidence based care. Although physicians are providing more addiction treatment than ever before, expanding the addiction treatment workforce to include all advance practice registered nurses is urgently needed to address access challenges and provider shortages due to the magnitude of this epidemic. We look forward to seeing this bill become law.”

An identical bill, HR. 3692, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Tonko (D-NY-20) and Lujan (D-NM-3).