February 14, 2024

Whitehouse Applauds Federal Expansion of Opioid Treatment Rules, Calls for Passage of TREATS Act

Bipartisan legislation would increase access to telehealth services for opioid use disorder

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) cheered the Biden administration’s new rule extending Covid-era policies that expanded access to medication-assisted treatment initiated at Opioid Treatment Programs (OPTs). The rule change allows methadone and buprenorphine to be administered at home and ends a yearlong requirement of opioid addiction before entering treatment.  These changes, which take effect on April 2, mark the first time in 20 years that the federal OPT rules have been updated.

“I applaud the Biden administration’s efforts to expand access to opioid treatment and support individuals from all walks of life on the noble road to recovery,” said Whitehouse, who authored the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the primary law guiding the federal response to the opioid epidemic.  “This new rule marks an important step in our fight against the opioid epidemic, and passing my TREATS Act would expand access to buprenorphine across all health care settings.  HHS has taken the first step, but more work is needed to ensure that everyone who wants recovery support can access it.”

Last November, Whitehouse reintroduced the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act to increase access to medication for substance use disorder through telehealth.  The bipartisan legislation will waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care, preserving flexibilities put in place to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Overdose deaths involving opioids rose to a peak of nearly 83,000 Americans in 2022.  Last year, 434 Rhode Islanders died of accidental overdoses.  Despite strong evidence that medication is the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder, only one in five Americans with opioid addiction receive medication treatment that could help them quit and stay in recovery.

During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services temporarily removed the in-person exam requirement for prescribing medication via telemedicine for people with opioid use disorder.  Telehealth flexibilities helped a broad range of patients – including veterans, those living in rural areas, people experiencing homelessness, individuals in the criminal justice system, and racial and ethnic minorities – access treatment.  The flexibilities are set to expire on December 31, 2024.

The TREATS Act would make the changes permanent, allowing providers to waive the in-person visit requirement and instead use audio-only or audio-visual telehealth technology.  

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921