NEWARK, NJ – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today applauded U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell for fulfilling her commitment to address the federal obstacle, which prevents a doctor from treating more than 100 patients at a time with an opioid addiction medication considered essential by public health experts. As the epidemic grows, the current cap has left more and more individuals, desperate for help, waiting for life-saving treatment.

“No one struggling with addiction should have to die waiting in line for help,” said Sen. Menendez, who yesterday hosted a summit on opioid addiction in Paterson, N.J. with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09). “I am pleased that HHS has heeded my call for swift action to right this injustice in our healthcare system. Heroin and prescription opioid addiction has taken too many lives and shattered too many families for us not to act. We need to give the treatment experts the tools they need to help people recover and save lives.”

HHS announced today it is issuing a proposed rule to double the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients with the goal of expanding access to this evidence-based treatment while preventing diversion. The proposed rule aims to increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and behavioral health supports for tens of thousands of people with opioid use disorders.

Just last month, Sen. Menendez questioned Sec. Burwell during a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the caps on buprenorphine use, in which Burwell committed to exercising her administrative authority to relax the regulatory restrictions and expand access to the life-saving treatment.

During yesterday’s summit with New Jersey law enforcement officials, healthcare and rehabilitation experts, Sen. 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 during another strategy session in the fall that a patient tragically died of an overdose while awaiting his number to be called for treatment.

Buprenorphine-based MAT is governed by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as amended by the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000). Pursuant to DATA 2000, practitioners may obtain a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for treatment of opioid use disorder. Initially, they may treat up to 30 patients at a time and, after one year they may file a request to treat up to 100 patients at a time. Only physicians may be authorized to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Existing evidence shows that evidence-based MAT is under-utilized. In the midst of this crisis, many practitioners have been limited in their ability to help patients in need of MAT because of this patient limit. Updating the regulations around the prescribing of buprenorphine-containing products, as proposed today, would help close this treatment gap.

Sen. Menendez cosponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed the Senate earlier this month. Among its provisions, the legislation makes naloxone more widely available to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help prevent overdoses and save lives, creates an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and interventions program and sets national treatment standards, and provides resources to states to better monitor prescription drug use and expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription drugs to keep them out of the hands of children.