May 18, 2022
Today, Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01), a member of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, secured the inclusion of key portions of his Opioid Treatment Access Act during the Energy and Commerce Committee’s markup of the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act. The bill was reported favorably out of the committee and is expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives later this year.
The provisions championed by Congressman Norcross that would increase access to live-saving medications include allowing aspects of care to be conducted via telehealth, shortening the timeline for take-home methadone, allowing some prescribers to prescribe up to 1-month worth of take-home doses, and streamlining the process by which opioid treatment programs (OPTs) may use mobile medication components (e.g., mobile vans that can expend treatment access beyond brick-and-mortar locations).
“The provisions of my Opioid Treatment Access Act that were included at today’s markup will help ensure those suffering from opioid misuse disorder will get the treatment they need. I am proud that this bill will help modernize our nation’s approach to the opioid epidemic and help save lives in the process. I want to thank Chair Frank Pallone for his leadership and Rep. Annie Kuster for advancing this important legislation in committee,” said Congressman Donald Norcross.
“The Opioid Treatment Access Act is an imperative step toward making life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder readily available, destigmatizing addiction, and turning the tide of the opioid epidemic. We can’t afford to lose more lives due to antiquated policies that treat people struggling with addiction differently than we treat those with other chronic diseases. As an addiction specialist, I look forward to a day when my patients with substance use disorder can go to the pharmacy and be seen and treated no differently by their communities than my patients with diabetes,” said Dr. Kaitlan Baston, division head of addiction medicine and medical director of government relations at Cooper University Health Care and assistant professor of medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.
The Opioid Treatment Access Act is supported by a group of addiction medicine specialists from across the country. This group includes: Dr. Rachel E. Simon, a clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine; Dr. Paul Joudrey, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine; Dr. Leslie Suen, an addiction medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco; Dr. Simeon Kimmel, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine; Dr. Susan Calcaterra, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine; and Dr. Kimberly Sue, an assistant professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and medical director at the National Harm Reduction Coalition.
The group said, “To prevent overdose deaths, there is an urgent need to expand methadone treatment to other healthcare settings such as pharmacies and primary care offices. Without such expansion, this life-saving treatment option will remain out of reach for many individuals and communities. We urge Congress to take action matching the scale of the ongoing epidemic. We are grateful for Rep. Norcross’s leadership on this issue and look forward to continuing working together to ensure the final legislation reflects the Opioid Treatment Access Act’s goal of reducing barriers to care and expanding access to treatment.”
The increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years got worse during the pandemic and continued in 2021, with over 80,000 lives lost due to opioid overdose in 2021 alone. Methadone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is among the most effective ways to treat opioid use disorder. Historically, patients have needed to line up every morning at methadone clinics to receive daily methadone doses from opioid treatment programs. The process is often time-consuming, stigmatizing, and logistically difficult, especially for patients in rural communities where travel over a long distance to the nearest opioid treatment program may be necessary. These obstacles to treatment can make it difficult for patients to maintain employment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) began allowing patients to take home larger quantities of methadone at a time, which preliminary studies have shown to increase engagement with treatment with few incidents of misuse. Though SAMHSA’s exemptions were extended by another year, the changes are not permanent. The Opioid Treatment Access act would fund a full study on the impact of the COVID-19 methadone exemptions.
The Opioid Treatment Access Act is also supported by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), Shatterproof, the Kennedy Forum, NAMA Recovery, the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, and the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA).