The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) today announced its final rule expanding telehealth access and codifying flexibilities enacted during the pandemic to promote evidence-based care provided by opioid treatment programs (OTPs). Advocates for Opioid Addiction Treatment (AOAT), an organization supporting Program Not a Pill, applauds SAMHSA’s final rule and released the following statement on the changes:
“Our OTPs’ multidisciplinary health care teams provide life-saving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to about 215,000 patients with opioid use disorder (OUD). As the opioid epidemic sadly continues to claim the lives of over 100,000 Americans annually, we are encouraged by SAMHSA’s commitment to evolving evidence-based policies that will help safely expand access to MAT at OTPs.
While we know that methadone is highly effective when used correctly under appropriate supervision, we also have seen it kill people when misused. As such, we support SAMHSA’s rule allowing take-home medication flexibilities, particularly given OTPs’ medication diversion protections to ensure patient safety and prevent misuse and diversion. This rule will allow patients to visit OTPs as few as three times in their first month of MAT, based on clinical assessments by an OTP Physician and multidisciplinary team applying structured anti-diversion protocols. It will also allow OTPs, in the context of a highly-structured program, to extend take-home medications to new, stable patients if deemed safe and medically appropriate.
Telehealth is a critical lifeline that will help OTPs safely and quickly admit new patients who are ready to enter treatment, allowing us to reach patients in underserved areas and drive greater treatment adherence. Expanding the use of telehealth will help patients in recovery access regular, convenient provider encounters, allowing them to better balance work and life responsibilities.
OTP providers have adhered to the pandemic flexibilities allowing for the greater use of clinical discretion in providing take-home doses of methadone for patients with OUD. By making these policies permanent, SAMHSA reinforces its commitment to supporting OTPs’ unmatched patient oversight and medication protocols that prioritize patient and community safety to prevent medication misuse and diversion.
AOAT remains committed to adhering to the federal regulations that ensure MAT and OTPs continue to provide the quality outcomes that have made this form of treatment the gold standard of OUD treatment. We applaud SAMHSA for its commitment to enacting policies that are grounded in scientific rigor and place patient and community safety and recovery at the forefront. We look forward to working alongside our federal partners to ensure safe implementation of these policies as we fight to end the opioid crisis.”
Advocates for Opioid Addiction Treatment (AOAT) is a national coalition committed to providing the highest quality of care to our patients by protecting and expanding access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for all Americans. AOAT members represent more than 700 OTP facilities and Office-Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT) practices serving about 215,000 patients daily across 46 states.