WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, the Union Leader published an op-ed by Senator Maggie Hassan that highlights how her bipartisan bill – which was signed into law at the end of last year – will help ensure that providers can prescribe medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder just as they would other controlled substances. As the Senator discusses in the piece, this new law removes the outdated requirement that health care providers get a special “X-Waiver” in order to provide the medication-assisted treatment, buprenorphine.
“Health care providers faced barriers and limitations that prevented them from prescribing this life-saving treatment. This led to an outrageous scenario where a doctor could prescribe opioids, but was not permitted to prescribe the vital medication to treat opioid use disorder,” wrote Senator Hassan. “The new law will make it easier for patients to access this critical treatment necessary to enter recovery and rebuild their lives.”
To read Senator Hassan’s full op-ed that ran in the Union Leader, click here or see below.
New law expands access to critical opioid treatment
By Sen. Maggie Hassan
Years ago, when she was only 9 years old, a little girl named Jada approached me at a meeting in Plaistow to tell me about the pain her family was feeling after her beloved cousin died of an opioid overdose. I was proud of Jada for speaking up, but heartbroken that she had to.
Countless other stories like Jada’s have spurred action across New Hampshire. Granite State families who have lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic and people in recovery continue to work tirelessly to try to prevent others from suffering as they have. As a result, policy makers have worked to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those with substance use disorder. But there is much more work to do.
As we learn more about opioid use disorder, the necessary next steps forward have never been more clear. According to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts, medication-assisted treatment, which treats opioid use disorder with medication, combined with counseling, is “the most effective intervention” for patients grappling with opioid use disorder.
Read that twice: the most effective. If something is the most effective approach to end the scourge of addiction, we must do everything within our power to expand access to it. Up until now, however, access to one key treatment — prescriptions for a drug called buprenorphine — has been severely limited.
Health care providers faced barriers and limitations that prevented them from prescribing this life-saving treatment. This led to an outrageous scenario where a doctor could prescribe opioids, but was not permitted to prescribe the vital medication to treat opioid use disorder.
These federal barriers have affected access. Studies have shown that nationwide about 40% of counties lack a single health care provider who can prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder.
That will now change. At the end of last year, President Joe Biden signed into law my bipartisan bill with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski to expand access to this life-saving treatment by removing burdensome barriers that prevent many doctors and nurses from prescribing buprenorphine. Our new law streamlines the process by eliminating the requirement known as the “X-waiver” — which up until now was blocking tens of thousands of highly trained health professionals from prescribing buprenorphine and limiting the number of patients that they can prescribe it. As Dr. Seddon R. Savage at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine said during a recent discussion we had about this, we treat diabetes with insulin, we treat cardiovascular disease with various medications — and we can treat opioid use disorder with medication such as buprenorphine.
The new law will make it easier for patients to access this critical treatment necessary to enter recovery and rebuild their lives. Of course, this is only one part of the comprehensive approach that we need to continue to take to address the opioid epidemic. Breaking the back of this epidemic will continue to require teamwork among health care professionals, the recovery community, lawmakers at every level of government, first responders, and law enforcement.
As we do that work, I remain grateful to advocates like Jada and the entire recovery community for the work they have done — and continue to do. Their work to break down the stigma of addiction has been fundamental to the progress we have made. But stigma lingers — and needs to be rooted out of every aspect of our response to the epidemic. Eliminating the unnecessary barriers to medication-assisted treatment — barriers that were a product of outdated stigma — is a good step in that direction.
For individuals and families who are impacted by this crisis, please know that you are not alone and that there are a number of resources in our state that can provide support.
If you or someone you know is struggling, I encourage you to reach out to the NH Doorway program, which you can connect to by calling 2-1-1. Additionally, the New Hampshire Rapid Response Access Point can provide critical mental health and substance use disorder resources — learn more by visiting nh988.com.
We are still only part way through our fight against this deadly epidemic. But Granite Staters have the strength, ingenuity, and determination to turn the tide. I look forward to continuing the effort with all of you.