Policy change makes it easier for doctors to prescribe potentially life-saving addiction medication

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Even though opioid overdose deaths rose 15% from 2020 to 2021 alone, for two decades the federal government limited access to a medication that has been successful in treating opioid use disorder.

Until recently, doctors who wanted to prescribe buprenorphine had to complete an 8-24 hour training and keep special records. The Drug Enforcement Administration also assigned those clinicians a registration number starting with a X. Many doctors claim this “X-waiver” made them a target for drug enforcement audits, NPR reports.

“Just the process associated with taking care of our patients with a substance use disorder made us feel like, ‘Boy, this is dangerous stuff,’” Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, who chairs the American Medical Association’s task force on substance use disorder, told NPR.

From 2007 to 2017, only 10% of primary care providers in the U.S. were certified to prescribe buprenorphine, according to a 2020 study in an American College of Physicians academic journal.

Hopefully, that number will increase now because Congress eliminated the “X-waiver.”

President Joe Biden talked about the legislation in his State of the Union address in Feb.

“Together, we passed a law making it easier for doctors to prescribe effective treatments for opioid addiction,” Biden said.

Thanks to the legislation, any doctor can now prescribe buprenorphine as long as they have a DEA number, which allows them to write prescriptions for controlled substances.

Buprenorphine, an FDA-approved prescription opioid, produces much milder effects than heroin or fentanyl and has been shown to curb cravings for these more dangerous drugs. Many healthcare leaders are optimistic this new policy change will improve access to treatment for those suffering from substance use disorders and prevent millions of deaths.

“The impact of this will be felt for years to come,” Dr. Rahul Gupta told NPR. “It is a true historic change that, frankly, I could only dream of being possible.”

You can find doctors who prescribe buprenorphine here.