US lifts barriers to prescribing addiction treatment drug

FILE - This July 23, 2018 file photo shows packets of buprenorphine, a drug which controls heroin and opioid cravings, in Greenfield, Mass. The U.S. government is easing requirements that made it difficult for doctors to treat opioid addiction using the medication. New guidelines announced Tuesday, April 27, 2021, mean doctors will no longer need eight hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
FILE - This July 23, 2018 file photo shows packets of buprenorphine, a drug which controls heroin and opioid cravings, in Greenfield, Mass. The U.S. government is easing requirements that made it difficult for doctors to treat opioid addiction using the medication. New guidelines announced Tuesday, April 27, 2021, mean doctors will no longer need eight hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Biden administration is easing decades-old requirements that made it difficult for doctors to treat opioid addiction using medication.

New guidelines announced Tuesday mean doctors and other health workers will no longer need extra hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine, a gold standard medicine that helps with cravings. And they no longer have to refer patients to counseling services.

Under the loosened guidelines, prescribers will be able to treat up to 30 patients at a time with the drug. It comes in a pill or film that dissolves under the tongue. It costs about $100 a month. A common version of buprenorphine is Suboxone.

Because of how opioids act on the brain, people dependent on them get sick if they stop using. Withdrawal can feel like a bad flu with cramping, sweating, anxiety and sleeplessness. Cravings for the drug can be so intense that relapse is common.

Buprenorphine helps by moving a patient from powerful painkillers or an illicit opioid like heroin to a regular dose of a legal opioid-based medication.

Besides doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and some other types of nurses will be able to prescribe buprenorphine without first getting special training.

The Trump administration tried to make a similar change in its final days but it would have applied only to doctors.

The Biden administration put the matter on hold for a legal and policy review, ultimately deciding to expand the easier guidelines to more prescribers.