Drug overdose has now surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States. Every day in the United States, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose. When this many lives are affected by addiction and substance abuse, it’s clear we must take action to improve treatment options and prevent drug overdose.
To address this problem in Ohio and across the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced plans to launch a targeted initiative aimed at reducing prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death, and dependence. Specifically, HHS will provide federal support for the development and distribution of naloxone, a medicine which helps reverse overdoses. Last December, I wrote to HHS urging them to make this investment to prevent deaths from prescription drug overdose. This announcement is a great step toward tackling overdose – but we must do more to address this public health challenge.
Effective medication-assisted therapy, when combined with cognitive and behavioral supports and interventions, can decrease overdose deaths in a cost-effective manner. However, federal law limits the capacity for providers to care for patients with opioid abuse problems using medically-assisted treatment. Currently, physicians who meet specific training requirements are limited to treating a maximum of only 30 patients in the first year. After that year, the number of patients they can treat increases to only 100, leaving millions of Americans dependent on opioids without an option for medication-assisted therapy.
We’ve got a problem when it’s easier for Americans to get heroin than it is for them to get help to break their addiction. We need to increase the number of opioid addiction treatment providers available and allow providers with a proven track record of success to treat more patients. Last Congress, I co-sponsored The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act to give healthcare providers the flexibility they need to help heal communities struggling with widespread opioid addiction. And I’m working again this Congress to reintroduce the bill and pave the way for meaningful changes to drug addiction treatment.
The TREAT Act would increase the number of patients an appropriately trained physician can initially treat from 30 to 100 patients in the first year and permit qualified nurse practitioners and physician assistants with the proper training to treat addicted patients, again up to 100 per year. It would also allow authorized providers, after one year, to request to treat more than 100 patients, so long as they meet certain training requirements.
Opioid use is a public health crisis across the United States, and we need to address this problem before it puts more lives in danger. This legislation would ensure people, in Ohio and all states, get the help they need before it’s too late.