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The least you need to know about Obama's new opioid policy

March 29, 2016

Today the White House announced several more initiatives to address the opioid and heroin crisis, which include updates to existing actions and several new additions. Here is the least you need to know.

  • A proposed rule will increase the number of patients any one prescriber can treat with buprenorphine from 100 to 200, following up on a vow federal leaders made at the end of last year to make a change on the policy. Keep in mind the rule is still just a proposal at this point, open to public comment for the next 60 days. It is within the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase the cap—Congress does not need to approve it. 
  • SAMHSA Acting Administrator Kana Enomoto also stated at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta today that there are efforts to create demonstration projects to study the possibility of allowing midlevel professionals--such as nurses and physician assistants, who in certain states can prescribe other medications--to have the go-ahead  to prescribe buprenorphine.
  • A new Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force will enforce established parity laws. It must produce a report by October 31, 2016, outlining items such as gaps in policy guidance and best practices in parity implementation. Additionally, the anticipated rule that mandates parity for Medicaid has been finalized.
  • At least 60 medical schools will provide prescriber education on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, a guideline that was finalized earlier this month.
  • SAMHSA is releasing $11 million for state grants for the purchase of naloxone and to train first responders as well as an additional $11 million for medication-assisted treatment programs in states.
  • Ohio and Michigan have been added to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs).
  • The Department of Justice has $7 million in funding available for law enforcement to combat heroin distribution.
  • HHS is issuing guidance for the use of federal funds for needle exchanges—an initiative previously announced. Note that the funds cannot purchase the needles, but they can support the staff or other resources for distribution. It’s been quite the back and forth over the years with funds being allowed for such programs in certain years and disallowed in others. The funding is on once again.
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