WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Thom Tillis and his colleagues recently reintroduced the bipartisan Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act, legislation to increase access to telehealth services for opioid use disorder. The bill will waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care, preserving flexibilities put in place to expand access and save lives during the pandemic.
“The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health emergencies of our time,” said Senator Tillis. “During the pandemic, temporary flexibilities allowed life-saving opioid use disorder (OUD) treatments, such as buprenorphine, to be prescribed via telehealth. This bipartisan legislation will permanently allow health care providers to prescribe OUD treatments via telehealth as appropriate, and result in expanded access to treatments that are proven to be effective in treating substance use disorders. As the United States continues to experience an unacceptable number of opioid overdose deaths, we must pursue policies that reduce barriers and increase access to care, and I'm proud to work with my colleagues on the TREATS Act, which does exactly that.”
Overdose deaths involving opioids rose to a peak of nearly 83,000 Americans in 2022. 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. 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," said Brian Hurley, MD, MBA, FAPA, DFASAM, President of ASAM.
"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. The TREATS Act will help more patients receive treatment by permanently allowing them to access this lifesaving medication remotely," said Brandee Izquierdo, director of behavioral health programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts.