More Americans will now have access to a drug that could help treat their opioid addiction, Sylvia Burwell, U.S. secretary of health and human services, announced Tuesday, even as she pushed for Congress to approve $1.1 billion targeted at the opioid epidemic.
The drug, called buprenorphine, is one of three medications _ the others are naltrexone and methadone _ that the FDA has approved for treating addictions to the powerful painkillers. Health care providers who prescribe the drug now must cap the number of patients treated at 100 because of fears that misusers will divert the medication for street use.
The new rule, effective Aug. 5, raises that patient cap to 275.
“We have to turn the tide of this epidemic,” said Burwell, who made the announcement during a press call Tuesday.
Opioids include the illegal drug heroin as well as the prescription medications codeine, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and others. All have the same effect, which is to interact with cells in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasure and relieve pain.
More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any other year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these fatalities, opioids were involved in 6 out of 10 — far more than any other class of drug.
These numbers represent a quadrupling in opioid-related fatal overdoses since 1999. In the interim 15 years, more than 165,000 have died from prescription opioids alone.
Burwell has sought $1.1 billion to improve prescribing practices and expand the uses of medications to treat addiction and overdoses.
Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy, joined her on Tuesday’s call to emphasize the need.
Currently, only 12 percent of Americans with an opioid abuse disorder are receiving treatment, Botticelli said.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 has already been approved by the Senate. Now lawmakers in the House of Representatives are considering whether to pass it, though House Republicans have proposed reducing the funding. Most of the proposed new money – $920 million – would fund cooperative agreements with states to provide more drug-based treatment.
“The simple fact is changing the trends requires . . . significant resources,” Burwell said. “These funds would help make sure that every American with an opioid abuse disorder that wants treatment can get treatment.”