McCaskill, Murkowski, Sullivan Seek to Expand Opioid Addiction Treatment Options for Rural Communities

Senators: ‘The severity of the U.S. opioid crisis demands nothing less than immediate action on this issue’

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are working to expand rural communities’ access to treatment for opioid addiction. While current law requires a doctor or nurse to see a patient in person before prescribing medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction, the Senators are encouraging the Trump Administration to exempt healthcare providers from this restriction in limited cases in order to expand access to opioid addiction treatment via telemedicine.

“While practical steps have been taken and progress has been made, there is more that can be done, and more that should be done to address our nation’s devastating opioid epidemic. I have said time and time again, this is an issue that transcends politics and its impacts are far-reaching,” said Senator Murkowski. “This rule change for expanding telemedicine access in a safe and controlled manner is another crucial step forward in addressing this epidemic and would ensure that controlled substances are dispensed in a tightly regulated and safe way.”

“The opioid crisis knows no social, economic or geographic boundary – it affects Alaskans and Americans from all walks of life,” said Senator Sullivan. “This rule change is absolutely necessary to help break down barriers so that more people across Alaska and rural America can get the help they need when they need it.”

“We’re in the midst of a national opioid epidemic, and Missourians in rural communities are struggling to get the care they need,” Senator McCaskill said. “I’ll say it until I’m hoarse: This crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and one step the Administration can take right now to continue fighting the epidemic is to make it easier for rural Missourians addicted to opioids to get anti-addiction medication.”

The Senators are urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to issue a new rule allowing for doctors, nurses, or other practitioners to obtain a “special registration” in order to prescribe controlled substances used as part of opioid addiction treatment via telemedicine. Telemedicine can include prescriptions over the Internet or by phone, which can be especially helpful in rural communities where there can be doctor shortages.

In Alaska, more than 80% of communities are not connected to a road system, making it harder for Alaskans to see doctors in person. Meanwhile, of the 101 rural counties in Missouri, 98 do not have licensed psychiatrists, who can play a critical role in overcoming an addiction and prescribing treatments for opioid addictions.

“The bar on telemedicine prescribing of anti-addiction medication will continue to impact rural Americans, who often live far from dedicated treatment centers and mental health professionals,” the Senators wrote in their letter to the DEA Acting Administrator. “In the face of a declared national public health emergency, DEA should immediately move to expedite the rulemaking process to create a special registration class of providers permitted to prescribe controlled substances to treat opioid addiction via telemedicine…The severity of the U.S. opioid crisis demands nothing less than immediate action on this issue.”

Read the senators’ letter to the DEA HERE.

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