National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) calls on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) to permanently extend telehealth flexibilities for prescribing buprenorphine, an opioid use disorder treatment.
Buprenorphine is one of three medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients suffering from addiction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA allowed doctors to prescribe the medication through telehealth services but the rule allowing buprenorphine to be prescribed will set to expire once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.
In March 2020, during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the DEA allowed audio-visual telemedicine services to prescribe all Schedule II-V controlled substances, including buprenorphine. If the telemedicine flexibilities are not made permanent, the consequences will be grave for the 2.5 million Americans who utilize buprenorphine for treating opioid use disorder.
The letter, signed by 45 attorneys general, highlights the significance of how the existing telehealth flexibilities are critical for assisting individuals with opioid use disorder. The attorneys general state: “The number of patients receiving buprenorphine as treatment for an opioid use disorder increased significantly when telehealth flexibilities were allowed… not only did this policy change led to an increase in buprenorphine initiation, but it also improved retention in care and reduced the odds of overdose for individuals prescribed buprenorphine via telehealth for opioid use disorder treatment.”
The current policy for telehealth services also expands access of buprenorphine to patients who may have previously struggled to receive the medication. The attorneys general state: “An estimated 28 million Americans live more than 10 miles and about 3 million live over 30 miles from a buprenorphine provider. Today, the delivery of care for buprenorphine treatment has shifted significantly to telehealth, making it more accessible than ever for individuals to access the treatment they need.”