Current Funding For Harm Reduction Programs
Emily Murray ❘
After an unprecedented amount of overdose deaths this past year, President Biden’s administration is prioritizing harm reduction programs.
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It has only been a week since President Joe Biden was sworn into office. Yet, already he has signed 40 executive orders. Next on his agenda is the opioid epidemic. According to anonymous sources, some clinical guidelines will be repealed. Specifically, the President will not support the last-minute opioid treatment plan created by the Trump administration. The previous administration enforced less restrictive opioid-related policies. They allowed practitioners to prescribe Buprenorphine (an opioid treatment drug) without an “X-waiver.” The “X-waiver” is a federal license that permits clinicians to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid addiction treatment. The Biden administration is concerned that these laxer rules were leading to rising addiction rates.
On January 14, 2021, there was a White House press release announcing the new guidelines. The change was in response to a 21% increase in opioid-related deaths over 12 months. From June 2019 to June 2020, over 83,000 people died from a drug overdose. By eliminating the federal rule, practitioners now had easier access to Buprenorphine. Doctors with a DEA narcotics prescribing license were exempt from the mandatory training. Before President Trump, doctors had to attend an eight-hour course to get a federal permit. The constraints had been in place for 20 years to ensure Buprenorphine was not overused. Under Trump’s clinical guidelines, more physicians gained access to Buprenorphine for medical treatment. So, when the news broke out, many clinicians rejoiced.
For years, people have been petitioning against the mandate. Advocates claim it slows down recovery for people struggling with opioid addiction. The drug restricted, Buprenorphine, is considered a transformative opioid treatment. Studies have shown it is an excellent tool for reducing deaths from opioid overdose. The medication satiates opioid cravings and decreases drug use. The FDA approved Buprenorphine in 2002 for opioid addiction treatment. Yet, only a few doctors have the proper certification to prescribe it. About 5% of America’s physicians possess the federal waiver, and fewer use it. Advocates hope that by eliminating unnecessary qualifications, more doctors will use Buprenorphine. With fewer restrictions around the drug, more patients could gain access to the medication.
During his campaign, President Biden recognized the problem surrounding Opioid treatment. He declared the restrictions on Buprenorphine as unnecessary and outdated. He even promised to lift and review Methadone treatment regulations. But experts in both the legal and healthcare sectors advised against it. Many believe the Department of Health and Human Services did not have the authority to remove a Congress regulation. According to the Washington Post, the new guidelines had “legal and clinical concerns.” They were an attempt by the Trump administration to bypass Congress’s mandated requirements. Even Elinore McCance-Katz attempted to block the plan. Katz was once Trump’s assistant HHS secretary for mental health and substance use. According to Katz, for months she tried to stall the announcement. She believed the policy was not ready for release and needed more restrictions. Without proper limits, a catastrophe like the opioid epidemic could occur, starring Buprenorphine.
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Due to numerous concerns, the Biden administration is planning on withdrawing the hasty order. Change and rapid action are needed to battle the Opioid epidemic. But the Trump administration’s clinical guidelines may be more problematic than helpful. So, a repeal may be necessary to avoid the creation of a new crisis. By delaying the policy change, Biden’s administration can smooth out legal concerns. They may even design a new drug policy based on science, health, and compassion. Soon we could see effective recovery plans in response to the Opioid epidemic.
Suzette Gomez earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Central Florida. Her desire to help others led her to a Pre-medical track with a focus on psychological and social development. After graduation, she pursued her passion for writing and began working as a Digital Content Writer at Recovery Worldwide LLC. With her background in medicine, Suzette uses both science and the arts to serve the public through her writing.