Menendez Gets Commitment from HHS Secretary to Address Barriers to Opioid Addiction Treatment

Menendez Gets Commitment from HHS Secretary to Address Barriers to Opioid Addiction Treatment


WASHINGTON, DC – In a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee with Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today received a commitment that the Agency will use its administrative authority to address limitations on medication-assisted treatment for those addicted to opioids.  Heroin deaths in New Jersey have risen 60 percent since 2010.

Last fall, Menendez held a strategy session with New Jersey law enforcement officials, healthcare and rehabilitation experts to discuss ways to address the opioid epidemic including drug treatment options and programs, access to medications and ways the federal government can help.  Limitations on a provider’s ability to conduct medication assisted treatment was cited as the most substantial barrier to addressing the epidemic.

During the strategy session, Menendez heard from physicians and recovery advocates who offered the buprenorphine treatment and had waiting lists of over 200 people.  A New Jersey doctor told the senator that a patient tragically died of an overdose while awaiting his number to be called for treatment.

Here is the exchange:                    

Menendez: 

As we are all fully aware, communities across the nation are facing an epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse.  Far too often the abuse of these drugs leads to fatal overdoses – in fact, as is pointed out in the Budget itself, deaths associated with opioids have quadrupled over the last dozen years to an astounding 78 deaths a day.  Last year in New Jersey, heroin deaths in our state are up 160 percent since 2010 and we suffered more than 1,200 overdose-related deaths. 

I recently held a listening session with key addiction treatment stakeholders in New Jersey to address this growing crisis.  To a person, the issue that came up as the most substantial barrier to addiction treatment was the limitation on a provider’s ability to conduct medication-assisted treatment.  As you know, these limitations cap a provider’s ability to treat, at most, 100 patients.  With the number of people in seeking treatment far outpacing the number of providers who can help them, this outdated limitation is tying providers’ hands and limiting treatment to those who need it most.

While I appreciate the Administration’s bold request for additional funds in this area, what is currently being done to increase access to medication assisted treatment and what further efforts can the Department take under current authority? 

Burwell:

Specifically in the case of buprenorphine – that specific type of medication assisted treatment – right now we are in the middle of changing our regulations and using as much administrative authority as possible to change that.  And I would expect it would happen this year.  We believe we can expand those caps and move those numbers…using administrative authority.

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