Study finds recent legislation improving access to treatment for opioid use disorder

A federal policy aimed at improving access in rural areas to buprenorphine, a key medication for treating opioid use disorder, appears to be working, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Known as The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the legislation allows for nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to obtain federal waivers so they can prescribe buprenorphine, which can typically only be prescribed by physicians. The waiver process was considered especially important in rural areas, where there are fewer physicians.

Led by Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management, the study examined federal data and found that the number of waivered clinicians in rural areas increased by 111% between 2016, when the legislation was enacted, to 2019. The study noted that NPs and PAs accounted for more than half of the increase.

Barnett and co-authors wrote that the “rapid growth in the numbers of NPs and PAs with buprenorphine waivers is a promising development in improving access to addiction treatment in rural areas.”

In a December 5, 2019 article in The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who co-sponsored the legislation, said that “we need as many qualified providers as possible to treat patients who are struggling with addiction” to effectively counter the opioid epidemic.

Read The Columbus Dispatch article: Study: Rural areas access to opioid treatment drug expanded under 2016 law Sen. Rob Portman backed