Congress is good at two things, as the old joke goes: doing nothing and overreacting. While the opioid crisis certainly deserves the “crisis” designation, a number of proposals from Congress to address it fall in the overreaction camp.
But one provision of a bill currently awaiting a final vote in Congress is a measured response to the crisis with the potential to do a great deal of good. Abby Goodnough from The New York Times explains:
The bill also permanently allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, an anti-addiction medication that requires a special license and extra training. Only about 5 percent of the nation’s doctors are licensed to prescribe it, and shortages are especially acute in rural regions. The bill further aims to increase access to the medication by allowing nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists to prescribe buprenorphine for the next five years.
For those unfamiliar with the drug, buprenorphine (“bupe” for short), is a drug prescribed to opioid addicts similar to methadone. It’s a form of “maintenance therapy” that helps addicts manage withdrawal and cravings without the risks associated with illicit opioid use. (One advantage bupe has over methadone is that it is much less dangerous if taken in high doses.)
Rent Check has previously covered the benefits of nurse practitioners and physician assistants when it comes to bringing down medical costs and expanding access to underserved populations, and this another way non-MD healthcare professionals can address a particularly salient issue.