February 23, 2021

Whitehouse Proposes Expansion of Telehealth Services and More Funding to Fight Opioid Crisis

Amid pandemic-driven overdose spike in RI, Whitehouse requests robust funding for SUD treatment in forthcoming COVID relief bill and in Biden’s budget proposal

Washington, DC – With opioid overdoses on the rise in Rhode Island and communities across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have introduced the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act to support the expansion of telehealth services for substance use disorder treatment. The bill would build on previous steps taken by the federal government to temporarily waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care virtually during the pandemic.

The TREATS Act would make permanent key waivers, including the ability to prescribe Medication Assisted Therapies (MAT) and other necessary drugs without needing a prior in-person visit and the ability to bill Medicare for audio-only telehealth services. The TREATS Act will increase overall access to MAT and support telehealth needs in rural communities where broadband may be needed.

Whitehouse is also calling for increased federal funding for substance use disorder treatment. Last week, Whitehouse joined U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and sixteen Senate Democrats in urging President Biden to increase federal funding for fighting the opioid epidemic in his upcoming budget proposal. In recent weeks, Whitehouse has also pressed for robust funding to address the opioid crisis in the COVID relief bill currently progressing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“So many Rhode Island families from every walk of life have lost a loved one to an overdose,” said Whitehouse. “The pandemic has presented new challenges for people walking the long, noble road of recovery, and for the treatment specialists who continue to carry out their lifesaving work. I am doing everything in my power to bring additional resources to Rhode Island to prevent any more families from having to endure a heartbreaking loss.”

For years, Whitehouse has helped lead the charge in Congress to fight the national opioid addiction crisis. Whitehouse co-authored the landmark bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), sweeping legislation to guide the federal response to the opioid epidemic that was signed into law in 2016.

“We thank Senators Whitehouse and Portman for introducing the TREATS Act which will expand the availability of telehealth. Since the implementation of telehealth, providers have reported an increase in access to and utilization of substance use disorder treatment, reduction in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and increased client engagement. It is shown to be an essential compliment to existing treatment and recovery services, especially during these uncertain times,” said Susan A. Storti, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CARN-AP, President and CEO of The Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery landscape. The nature of the pandemic has increased social isolation and stress while decreasing access to treatment and harm reduction resources, with significant repercussions for individuals dealing with addiction. According to advocates, there were more than 400 overdose deaths in Rhode Island last year—a grim new record.

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921