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First on CNN: To ‘meet people where they are,' HHS to allow opioid disorder treatment via telemedicine, at home

·3 mins

Some people being treated for opioid use disorders can soon take home doses of their methadone medications or schedule telehealth appointments in ways they haven’t always been able to do before. For the first time in more than two decades, the US Department of Health and Human Services is making significant updates to regulations governing Opioid Treatment Programs or OTP,certified and accredited programs that provide medications such as methadone or buprenorphine for people diagnosed with an opioid use disorder. These are the only certified programs through which people can access methadone treatment, a medication approved to treat opioid use disorder. A final rule will update the OTP regulations. The updates include expanding eligibility for patients to take home doses of their methadone treatment, allowing them to start treatment via telehealth and allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to order medications. These updates are intended to ‘meet people where they are,’ said an official, and to make treatments more accessible. During the Covid-19 pandemic, regulations were relaxed around using telemedicine for the treatment of opioid use disorders, and the latest updates to the OTP regulations make these telemedicine options permanent. Access to medications for opioid use disorder has been an ongoing issue for people in the United States. The latest efforts by officials to expand access to treatment are ‘great,’ said a expert, but there is still more work to be done to ensure that both harm reduction tools and medications are accessible for those who need them the most. The final rule that updates the OTP regulations is the latest in a string of actions that the Biden-Harris administration has taken recently to battle the nation’s ongoing overdose epidemic. HHS also announced that certain federal grant funds now can be used to purchase test strips for xylazine, an animal sedative commonly known as tranq. When xylazine is added to fentanyl products or other drugs, it can increase the risk of an overdose. The White House has declared fentanyl laced with xylazine to be an emerging threat facing the United States. Overall, the number of overdose deaths associated with any drug continues to increase each month in the United States. ‘Drug overdoses reach every corner of our society, taking lives and causing immeasurable pain to families and communities. That’s exactly why President Biden made it a key priority of his Unity Agenda. We have made important progress, but there is still a lot of work to do,’ said an official. Earlier this week, HHS — through SAMHSA — released an updated toolkit on how to prevent and respond to overdoses. The latest version of the Overdose Prevention and Response Toolkit has appendices for specific audiences, including people who use drugs, people who take prescription opioids, first responders and health care practitioners. The hope is for these latest HHS actions, including the final rule for Opioid Treatment Programs, to drive down overdose death rates.