White House Expands Suboxone Limit, Calls For More Funding

By John Lavitt 07/07/16

The Obama Administration is taking additional steps to fight the opiate epidemic while pushing for an additional $1.1 billion in new funding from Congress.  

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White House Expands Suboxone Limit, Calls For More Funding

On Tuesday, Drug Czar Michael Botticelli and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell hosted a White House teleconference to address the need of fighting the opioid epidemic through increased funding. The call highlighted the national expansion of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) opportunities. The details included a decision to increase from 100 to 275 the number of patients that qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorders can treat. In addition, there was a major political push for Congressional funding of President Obama’s opioid initiatives and overcoming the partisan problems being faced.

Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell emphasized that, “We have to turn the tide of this epidemic.” While detailing the increase in the number of prescribers, Secretary Burwell brought up the need to change an ugly national statistic: only 12% of people needing treatment are able to get it. Still, despite the detailed efforts, it seems unlikely that the percentage will be significantly affected even if all of the administration’s initiatives are put into practice. The opioid epidemic is simply that big and that unmanageable at this time.

A major change that was brought up during the call, but was not truly highlighted, was the decision to break the connection between patient pain management ratings and CMS Open Payments. By breaking this connection where patients were being asked how well their pain was managed with their answers influencing insurance payments, it is believed that doctors will be less likely to overprescribe prescription opioids. Burwell also announced that HHS plans to launch additional studies and research to further understand the epidemic. 

"Changing the trends of this epidemic requires everyone to work together,” said the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Michael Botticelli. When asked by John Lavitt of The Fix whether the administration’s efforts too greatly favored MAT over other needed treatments like therapy and behavioral modification, Botticelli admitted that additional treatment services would be needed to promote long-term recovery. 

How is that gap in traditional treatment services going to be filled? Botticelli pointed out that help from the states and private institutions will most likely have to be a crucial part of that effort. Right now, despite excessive enthusiasm for how buprenorphine can get an addict temporarily off opiates, MAT alone is not a proven path to sustainable sobriety. Moreover, other drugs problems raging across the country like crystal meth abuse and marijuana legalization efforts are being overrun by the tidal wave of the opioid epidemic. With prescription painkiller and heroin issues raised in the current election season, it is doubtful that this trend will change anytime soon.

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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 with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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