White House, HHS Announce Major Actions on Opioid Epidemic
On Tuesday, President Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services announced a series of initiatives to address the nation’s ongoing and growing opioid epidemic, including: expanding the use of medication-assisted treatments like buprenorphine; finalizing regulations related to parity and needle exchange programs; and announcing new grants to combat the use and abuse of opioids.
A key component of the President’s agenda in combatting the epidemic is the expansion of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The National Council has been a leader in spreading and promoting the benefits of medication-assisted treatment, working directly with providers to expand the use of these lifesaving medications in organizations throughout the country.
The MAT-related announcements include:
- Funding to expand MAT: SAMHSA made available $11 million in grants to states to implement and increase the use of MAT. Expanding the providers’ prescribing ability will allow for more patients to have greater access to effective opioid treatment medications like buprenorphine.
- Expanding the prescriber cap: The proposed rule released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) would double the number of patients that prescribers can provide with MAT from 100 patients to 200. The President’s proposal made clear that lifting the caps was contingent upon prescribers offering additional treatment services and therapies in conjunction with medication-assisted treatment.
- Pocket Guide for Prescribers: SAMHSA also released a new pocket guide for health professionals, providing a checklist and best practices for prescribing these opioid treatment medications. The guide – Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder – gives prescribers screening and assessment tools, including an 11-item scale to monitor opiate withdrawal.
A number of high profile regulations were finalized and published with this announcement.
Those regulations included:
- Parity: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published final regulations outlining how parity applies to state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs. The final rule will extend parity protections to more than 23 million Americans covered by these health insurance programs. Read more on the National Council’s in-depth coverage of the final rule here.
- Needle Exchange Programs: HHS published final regulations detailing the use of federal funds to implement or expand needle exchange programs. Passed by Congress as a part of the budget deal in 2015, the change allows for federal funding of critical aspects of exchange programs, including: staff, vans, substance abuse counseling, referral to treatment services, and outreach and education in at-risk communities. The change does not allow for the funding of syringes themselves, however.
ADDITIONAL FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
This week’s announcement also included a number of new grants for multitude of initiatives throughout HHS and other federal government agencies.
Highlights of those opportunities include:
- Naloxone: $55 million in new five year grants will be made available to increase the first responder training and use of naloxone.
- Addressing Rural Health: $1.4 million under the Department of Agriculture will fund a Rural Health and Safety Education program that will work with states to address rural substance use and abuse issues.
The National Council continues to review the President’s major announcements and will keep readers and advocates updated with our latest analyses and opportunities to take action.