Proposed Bill Would Allow Doctors to Help More Addicts

By Paul Gaita 08/07/14

The Democratic TREAT Act would increase the number of addicted patients doctors could see while providing opioid medications like Suboxone.

Edward Markey.jpg
Sen. Edward Markey Wiki Commons

Democratic lawmakers from across the nation are sponsoring a bill that will allow health care providers to treat more patients addicted to heroin and other opioids.

The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act, proposed by Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass) and co-sponsored by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), will increase the number of addicted patients that doctors can see in a single year. It will also provide them with medication-assisted therapy like buprenorphine, sometimes known as Suboxone.

Current federal law restricts physicians and other providers from treating more than 30 patients in the first year and 100 in subsequent years, and requires a waiver to prescribe medication. Under the TREAT Act, physicians could see 100 addicted patients during the first year and an unlimited amount in the years that followed.

The bill would also allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat patients with buprenorphine and other opioid addiction medications, if they first complete addiction treatment training and are in a state that allows them to prescribe controlled substances.

In a statement, Markey said, “Treatment for opioid addiction should not be harder to access than the actual heroin and prescription drugs destroying our communities. The TREAT Act will expand access to medical treatment that works, allowing doctors and trained nurse practitioners to treat more patients and address this scourge of addiction.”

The bill, however, is not without its critics. Though buprenorphine is a Schedule III narcotic and is considered a safer treatment for opioid addiction than morphine, police in several East Coast states have reported an increase in street seizures of the medication.

“There’s no question there are more people who would probably benefit from increased prescribing of this drug,” said Eric Wish, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland in College Park. “On the other hand, we have to be aware that with the increased prescribing comes the possibility of increased diversion and misuse on the street.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.