Local View: Easier access to opioid medications may be news you missed
From the column: "In a country where about 136 people die from preventable opioid overdoses every single day, this regulatory change should be headline news."
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — yes, scientifically, it is still ongoing — has understandably been the predominant health concern for our country, communities, and families since at least March 2020. However, hiding behind this focal point has been other worsening health crises. The opioid epidemic is perhaps the best example where more public attention and action to save American lives is sorely needed.
Such an action arrived on Dec. 29 when key provisions from the federal Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act were signed into law as part of the year-end omnibus bill. This led to the official elimination of a bureaucratic hurdle that had prevented many primary-care clinicians from prescribing medications for opioid addiction, which is a treatable brain disease just like other chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Prior to this change, it was more administratively burdensome for clinicians to prescribe key medications that can help end the opioid crisis (i.e., buprenorphine/naloxone, often known by the brand names Suboxone or Zubsolv) than it was for them to prescribe opioids. The elimination of these extra requirements combined with more streamlined training will increase the pool of buprenorphine prescribers in the U.S. from just 130,000 to possibly more than 1.8 million.
This significant action, albeit one that needs to be followed by many more, has received little press. Perhaps the cable-news networks, which seemingly share nothing in common with each other beyond a business model profiting from division, had little to gain in highlighting legislative changes that received broad bipartisan support and that will save many American lives.
In a country where about 136 people die from preventable opioid overdoses every single day, this regulatory change should be headline news. Seemingly everyone knows someone who lost their life to opioids or had it turned upside down by someone who did.
More needs to be done so everyone also knows it is now easier to access safe, effective, and life-saving medications that can help from their primary care clinician or another trusted provider.
Irina Haller and Anthony Olson are research scientists at the Essentia Institute of Rural Health in Duluth.