The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) along with 119 other health care organizations urged Congress to quickly pass the bipartisan Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (MAT Act) in a letter to congressional leaders.
The MAT Act would eliminate federal barriers to prescribing buprenorphine by allowing all health care providers with a standard controlled medication license to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) in daily practice. The bill also includes a campaign to connect providers to free educational resources on best practices for treating substance use disorder.
“Our nation’s 150,000 PAs play a vital role in efforts to help patients suffering from OUD, but federal barriers can stand in the way of PAs and other health care providers working to deliver timely and potentially life-saving care,” said AAPA President and Chair of the Board Beth R. Smolko, DMSc, MMS, PA-C, DFAAPA.
“Currently, PAs are required to go through the complicated process of obtaining a DEA waiver or filing a statement of intent with the DEA in order to prescribe buprenorphine,” Dr Smolko said. “This applies not just to PAs practicing in areas related to substance use disorder, but also PAs in specialties such as primary care, emergency medicine, OB/GYN, and others.”
“The MAT Act would eliminate this unnecessary requirement and allow all health care providers with a standard controlled medication license to prescribe treatment for opioid use disorder in the course of their normal medical practice in a manner consistent with state law,” Dr Smolko noted. “Not only would this ensure PAs are able to provide immediate care for patients in need, but also it would send the message to patients that help is readily and widely available, removing the stigma that can discourage those in need from seeking treatment.”
Recent Changes in Buprenorphine Guidelines
As of April 28, 2021, health care providers who treat up to 30 patients at a time with buprenorphine for OUD no longer need to take mandatory training for this medication or certify their ability to refer patients to counseling and ancillary services. However, providers must still register with the federal government to prescribe buprenorphine, a process that can take 2 to 3 months, the organizations noted in the letter. Providers who treat more than 30 patients at a time with buprenorphine must complete 8 to 24 hours of training on the medication and comply with a counseling referral requirement.
“The federal restrictions on buprenorphine will continue to leave most of the over 2.3 million Americans with opioid use disorder without access to the medication, causing multitudes of preventable deaths,” the organizations wrote.
Nearly 30% of clinicians do not register to prescribe buprenorphine after completing a training course on the medication. Less than one-third of clinicians who do complete the registration prescribe buprenorphine to patients with opioid use disorder, according to the organizations.
The organizations requested that Congress pass the MAT Act with the urgency needed to combat the rising rates of opioid overdoses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.