What the New Opioid Bill Means for Buprenorphine Patients
How could the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act affect those on Suboxone and other recovery meds?
This June, the US House of Representatives passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. This bill amounts to Congress’s latest and largest attempt to address the opioid epidemic gripping America. Should it pass the Senate and be signed by the President, here is what patients on buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv) can expect.
One part of the bill, called Jessie’s Law, will change how health care providers are informed about your history of substance misuse. Named after Jessie Grubb who died of a fatal overdose in Ann Arbor, Mich. two years ago. Jessie was recovering from a seven year heroin addiction when, after a hip surgery, a physician prescribed her 50 oxycodone.
Jessie’s Law would require the government to come up with guidelines for providers and hospitals on how to ensure that health professionals have access to a patient’s history of addictive behavior to help prevent relapses, like the one that took Jessie’s life.
Many people in recovery may justifiably be concerned about their privacy in the wake of Jessie’s Law. While the guidelines have yet to be drafted, a previous attempt by Senator Joe Manchin (WV) to pass this legislation clarified that a patient request would be needed before their history of substance misuse was shared with providers. What exactly constitutes a patient request will be determined by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Expanding who can prescribe buprenorphine
The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act does three very important things to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.
- It extends the ability of waivered nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to prescribe buprenorphine indefinitely (they were previously only allowed to prescribe for 5 years).
- It removed the 30 bupe patient limit for the first year for clinicians who are certified in addiction medicine/psychiatry OR who work in an approved MAT facility.
- It allows waivered Certified Nurse Specialists (CNSs), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs), and Certified Nurse Anaesthetist (CNAs) to prescribe bupe for 5 years. Like NPs, these nursing professionals have advanced training.
By expanding who can prescribe buprenorphine and removing barriers for current prescribers, Congress has taken a critical step forward in increasing access to a life-saving medication.
Medicare and e-prescribing
If you use Medicare Part D to cover the cost of your buprenorphine prescription, you may find yourself saying goodbye to paper scripts. The SUPPORT Act would have Medicare require, in most instances, that controlled substances, including bupe, be e-prescribed.
Medicaid and inpatient treatment
Outpatient treatment isn’t right for everyone. The SUPPORT Act would remove previous restrictions and allow Medicaid to cover inpatient mental health services for opioid and cocaine use disorders. This is a big win as inpatient treatment tends to be more expensive than outpatient.
Investing in opioid alternatives
Many people struggling with opioid addiction started on pain pills for either acute or chronic pain while patients on buprenorphine often worry about how they will manage pain as they try to beat addictive behavior. The SUPPORT Act empowers the National Institutes of Health to put more resources into clinical trials of new and better non-opioid pain management therapies. New opioid alternatives could be a gamechanger, preventing new addiction and helping people in recovery manage pain without worry of relapse.