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Nashua Telegraph: Opinion: Senator Hassan: Increasing access to vital substance misuse treatment is imperative

It defies logic that a doctor who can prescribe opioids, is in many cases, not also permitted to prescribe vital treatment for people struggling with substance use disorders.

That needs to change, which is I why I have proposed bipartisan legislation to remove the needlessly burdensome barriers that restrict health care providers from prescribing life-saving medication-assisted treatment.

The evidence is clear: medication-assisted treatment, coupled with counseling and peer recovery support, is the single best option for treating substance use disorder. A report by Pew Charitable Trusts said the treatment – which combines therapy with approved medication – is “the most effective intervention” for patients.

The benefits of medication-assisted treatment for both individuals and their communities are wide-ranging: from increasing survival rates to reducing criminal activity. This treatment can allow patients to rebuild their lives – helping them sustain their recovery and increasing their ability to gain and maintain employment.

This approach helps people get on the road to recovery and stay there. It helps save lives and change them for the better. And it helps build stronger communities for us all.

People grappling with substance use disorder need to have access to medication-assisted treatment. Unfortunately, there remains a stigma that holds people back from both seeking treatment in the first place, and especially in seeking this particular type of treatment because the medication shares certain chemical properties with opioids like heroin or fentanyl – despite the fact that the medication is safe and effective.

Additionally, many restrictions remain in place today that prevent health care providers from prescribing certain forms of medication-assisted treatment. Under current law, health care providers must attend several hours of training and must qualify for a waiver through the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to prescribe buprenorphine, one of the FDA-approved forms of medication-assisted treatment. These legal barriers to prescribing medication-assisted treatments create obstacles to accessing this vital treatment in too many of our communities.

I’m working across the aisle to fix that. And last month, I joined with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to introduce legislation to remove the barriers that are currently in place. Our bill would streamline the process by eliminating that outdated requirement – making this treatment strategy more available.

To ensure that doctors are aware of these changes to prescribing, our bill would also require a national campaign to educate practitioners about the changes in the law and encourage providers to integrate substance use treatment into their practices.

Recognizing the urgency of the fentanyl, heroin, and opioid crisis, members of both parties have made addressing the challenges our communities face a top priority. And I am encouraged that we have come together across party lines to support greater access to medication-assisted treatment.

Companion legislation has also been introduced on a bipartisan basis in the House of Representatives, and I am urging my colleagues to support this vital measure.

Our number one priority should be making sure that those grappling with addiction have the support and resources that they need to start the recovery process as soon as possible – that means expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, as well as counseling and peer recovery services.

By improving access to the most effective methods of treating substance misuse we can take greater strides toward turning the tide of this crisis and improving the lives of those in our communities who are struggling.

Maggie Hassan is the junior senator from New Hampshire, and a former governor of the Granite State.