Obama Administration Announces Plan to Treat Opiate Epidemic

By Zachary Siegel 09/17/15

By increasing access to Suboxone and other medication-assisted treatments, the Obama administration aims to help opiate addicts.

President Barack Obama
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At a conference on opioid addiction in Northern Virginia, the Obama Administration announced that they are rewriting regulations which, as of now, restrict the number of patients to which doctors are allowed to prescribe Suboxone.

Within the first year of going through the arduous process of being able to prescribe Suboxone, doctors can only treat up to 30 opioid-dependent patients. In subsequent years, they are only allowed to treat 100 patients. In areas hit hard by the scourge of heroin, these restrictions are leading to deadly consequences.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said, “We need to lift people out of opioid-use disorder through medication-assisted treatment."

"This epidemic is multifaceted, and we need to respond with the best solutions that medicine and behavioral therapy can provide together," Burwell said followed by an eruption of applause. "So we need to increase the use of buprenorphine, which can help us treat opioid use disorder when combined with psycho-social support."

Burwell’s climactic speech continued, "We have heard from many stakeholders and leaders that the current capacity does not meet the current demand. So today I’m proud to announce that our department will revise the regulations related to buprenorphine to safely and effectively increase access," she said.

After France adopted a policy of increased access to buprenorphine, methadone, and empowered needle exchange programs, both overdose deaths and HIV saw dramatic reductions. In thwarting access to what are life-saving services, opioid-related deaths in America will continue to rise.

This new policy promotes the dominant medical view that medication-assisted treatments such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, when complemented with counseling and other social support, are the best solutions to treat opioid addiction available at this time. As of now, the treatment of opioid use in America remains largely ineffective because of legal and societal oppositions to medication-assisted treatments.

On the verge of tears by the end of her speech, Burwell said, "We need good ideas to spread faster and farther than this epidemic,” which is still seeing a too-high mortality rate.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.