Obama Proposes Doubling Patient Limit for Doctors Prescribing Suboxone

By John Lavitt 03/30/16

The president also encourages states to purchase, distribute, and provide widespread training to those administering naloxone.

 Obama Doubles Patient Limit for Doctors Prescribing Suboxone
photo via Shutterstock/Everett Collection

President Barack Obama addressed the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Ga. on Tuesday, announcing a big move aimed at increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction.

Currently, physicians who are qualified to prescribe buprenorphine and Suboxone (a combination of  buprenorphine and naloxone) are limited to treating 100 patients only. Under a proposed rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), that number will be doubled to 200. Raising patient limits for doctors who administer MAT will allow them to treat more people.

Both the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) endorse MAT as an evidence-based best practice for treating opioid use disorder. Opioid agonist medications like buprenorphine and Suboxone have been found to decrease overdose deaths, reduce transmission of infectious disease, and reduce criminal activity.

Another facet of the administration's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic is to pump funding into expanding treatment access across the country. Obama recently proposed $1.1 billion in new funding to ensure that every American in need will have access to treatment for opioid use disorder. In March, the administration announced it will dedicate $94 million in funding for 271 community health centers to increase and improve substance use disorder treatment services. 

In addition, SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) is doling out $11 million to help states expand MAT services and to purchase and distribute naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote.

"My job is to promote the safety, the health, the prosperity of the American people," said the president in his remarks. "When you look at the staggering statistics in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, costs to communities, but most importantly, cost to families from this epidemic of opioids abuse, it has to be something that is right up there at the top of our radar screen."

"You see an enormous ongoing spike in the number of people who are using opioids in ways that are unhealthy, and you're seeing a significant rise in the number of people who are being killed." A video of the panel discussion can be viewed here.

Another key strategy is establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force. The objectives of this task force will be to:

1. Improve access to substance use disorder treatment 

2. Promote compliance with best practices for mental health and substance use disorder parity implementation 

3. Develop additional agency guidance as needed to address the ongoing opioid epidemic

The president also highlighted the need to address the problem of opioid abuse in rural communities across the country. The Department of Agriculture launched a $1.4 million Rural Health and Safety Education Grant Program on Monday to address this very problem.

The administration also maintained its support for syringe exchange programs. Last year, Obama lifted a ban on these programs, allowing certain communities to use federal funding to support such programs. "When you look at the science, there’s no evidence that because of a syringe exchange program or Naloxone, that that is thereby an incentive for people to get addicted to drugs. That’s not the dynamic that’s taking place," said the president during the panel discussion at the Rx Summit. 

"If we can save a life when they are in medical crisis, then we now are in a position to make sure that they can also recover so long as the treatment programs are available." 

In terms of enforcement, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will expand its High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs), adding Ohio and Michigan to the effort. These local partnerships between law enforcement agencies already exist in the Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.