Lawmakers urge Biden to back opioid-treatment measure

Now, lawmakers — led by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who are joined by four members in the House — are reintroducing legislation to eliminate the rules and urging the president to support their bill, calling it the “best way to … move forward on our shared goal” in a letter to Biden shared with The Washington Post.

“This burdensome requirement does not improve patient safety, but does lead to treatment bottlenecks and a lack of providers across the country, particularly in rural areas,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday.

The Biden administration is reviewing options to eliminate the waiver, said three administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.

“We’re trying to do things the right way, and that will take some time,” said one official. “We look forward to working with stakeholders on this issue, including Congress.”

Medical groups have hailed buprenorphine as a lifesaving treatment, particularly as the opioid crisis has accelerated during the covid-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in May 2020, the highest 12-month death count on record.

Physicians also have long clamored to be able to more easily prescribe the drug, which blocks the effects of opioids and limits the symptoms of withdrawal.

“Perhaps the Biden administration will eliminate the X-waiver in its own manner. But how can it justify further delay with overdose deaths increasing amid the pandemic?” two Cleveland Clinic psychiatrists wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday. “If the administration lacks the courage to act now, we implore Congress to do so.”

The Trump administration’s plan to get rid of the X-waiver, announced Jan. 14, sought to go around Congress’s requirement that physicians obtain a waiver by issuing new “clinical guidelines” that would have enabled doctors with a Drug Enforcement Administration narcotics-prescribing license to avoid the training. But the plan had legal and operational problems, including a failure to get necessary clearance from the White House budget office, said two officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it, and the Biden administration formally killed it in a terse, 61-word announcement on Jan. 27.

Hassan and Murkowski had introduced their bill, the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act, in the previous session of Congress, but it died in committee. The office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not respond to requests for comment about whether he would support it.

The bill is also supported in the House by New York Democrats Paul Tonko and Antonio Delgado, and Ohio Republicans Anthony Gonzalez and Michael R. Turner.

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