Whitehouse, Murkowski, Warner, Blackburn Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Expand Telehealth Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) today reintroduced the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act, legislation to increase access to telehealth services for opioid use disorder. The bipartisan bill will waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care, preserving flexibilities put in place to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The opioid epidemic has taken a devastating toll on Rhode Island families from all walks of life,” said Whitehouse, who authored the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the primary law guiding the federal response to the opioid epidemic. “During the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth sessions were a lifeline for those walking the long road to recovery while dealing with stress and isolation. Our bipartisan legislation would make telehealth flexibilities permanent to ensure that lifesaving recovery support continues to be widely available from the comfort of home.”
“In Alaska, access to care has long been a challenge, especially for people who live in rural communities off the road system. One effort to address and improve access to care has been improving our telehealth technology. That’s why I’m supporting the TREATS Act, which makes the critical service of addiction treatment accessible by telehealth bringing the promise of recovery to every corner of our country,” said Murkowski.
“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic we learned valuable lessons in how to adapt our health care system in order to better care for patients, including the successful treatment of patients with opioid addiction using telehealth services,” said Warner. “The TREATS Act would make permanent commonsense, safe telehealth practices that will expand care options for those battling with substance use disorder.”
“The ability for providers to prescribe life-saving opioid use disorder treatments was instrumental in the delivery of care during the COVID-19 pandemic. This flexibility broke down barriers for those who previously couldn't access in-person treatment, improved patient retention, and decreased opioid overdose deaths. The TREATS Act is an important step toward preserving the transformative improvements in the treatment of opioid use disorder treatment and is a crucial tool in combatting the opioid crisis. This commonsense legislation would make permanent patients’ access to these services,” said Blackburn.
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.
The American Medical Association, American Society for Addiction Medicine, American Telemedicine Association, Faces and Voices of Recovery, Kennedy Forum, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, National Rural Health Association, National Safety Council, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, R Street Institute, and The Pew Charitable Trusts endorsed the senators’ legislation.
“The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) applauds the bipartisan introduction of the TREATS Act in the United States Senate,” said Brian Hurley, MD, MBA, FAPA, DFASAM, President of ASAM. “ASAM is deeply committed to ensuring every person with a substance use disorder has access to high-quality, full-spectrum addiction care and to closing the addiction treatment gap. This commitment includes supporting policies, like the TREATS Act, which optimize telehealth access and advance health equity in addiction medicine.”
“The TREATS Act is a critical piece of legislation for sustaining and expanding access to medications for opioid use disorder (OUD) in rural communities, especially as nearly three quarters of rural counties lack a buprenorphine provider, impeding access to lifesaving care. The National Rural Health Association applauds Senators Whitehouse and Murkowski for their efforts to extend public health emergency flexibilities and allow patients with OUD to access buprenorphine treatment remotely,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer, National Rural Health Association.
“Telehealth access to buprenorphine has transformed opioid use disorder treatment, as patients haven’t had to take off work, find transportation or child care, or face the stigma that often accompanies in-person treatment,” said Brandee Izquierdo, director of behavioral health programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The TREATS Act will help more patients receive treatment by permanently allowing them to access this lifesaving medication remotely.”
Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) cosponsored the legislation. Representatives David Trone (D-MD), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) led the introduction of the legislation in the House.
Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921
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