HHS Proposes Permanent Telehealth Flexibilities For Distributing Buprenorphine

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a rule to expand access to treatments for opioid use disorder. The proposed updates, which have not been updated in over two decades, would address long standing barriers in regulations and allow physicians to utilize telehealth to initiate buprenorphine treatment. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., leader of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), noted that the proposed changes could reduce overdose rates.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, SAMHSA implemented measures to allow physicians to start substance abuse treatment with buprenorphine through telehealth and provided take-home doses of methadone. Patients deemed stable by their physicians were able to receive up to 28 days’ worth of methadone doses, while other patients were allowed a 14-day supply, according to a proposed rule release.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently cited a study which found that patients who used the flexibilities available to them had a positive effect on their recovery. In light of this, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has proposed an expansion of the definition of an opioid treatment program practitioner to include any provider with a license to dispense or prescribe approved medications. This would enable physician assistants to prescribe and dispense such treatments and would eliminate the one-year requirement for opioid addiction prior to entry into a treatment program. Furthermore, the proposed rule would remove the requirement of an annual report to SAMHSA from practitioners who have a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine. Comments on the rule must be submitted by February 14th.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke on Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., about the efforts of the Biden administration to combat the surge of overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic. He stated that the federal government is looking to address the period between when a person becomes an addict and when they get treatment, in order to prevent irreparable harm to the individual. Becerra also touched upon the need for the government to work with states to provide follow-up care to ensure that those who have gotten clean stay clean. He commented that the world is not always accommodating to those who have been through addiction treatment.