Nov. 23 (UPI) -- A 2017 law change allowing nurse practitioners to prescribe drugs for opioid overdose and addiction treatment improved access for people in rural areas, a new study found.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act expanded availability of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. In particular, it allowed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, which can treat pain and addiction to narcotic pain relievers.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of Rural Health, examined the impact of the law's implementation on the geographic distribution of medications to treat opioid addiction in Oregon. Researchers found that the change in law had a positive impact on supply and distribution, especially in frontier or very rural areas.
Nurse practitioners accounted for nearly 1 in 5 buprenorphine prescriptions in rural Oregon by the end of 2018, according to the study. In frontier or rural and underserved areas, which comprise 10 of 36 counties in Oregon, nurse practitioners accounted for more than a third of such prescriptions dispensed.
Lead author of the study Tracy Klein, an associate professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing in Vancouver, said in very rural areas, nurse practitioners may be only healthcare providers.
"It's not surprising that having nurse practitioners being able to do this would increase access to buprenorphine in rural areas," Klein said in a statement. "It was surprising the extent to which people were reliant on nurse practitioners for this service and that nurse practitioners were stepping up to the plate and providing it."
The study noted that opioid addiction "continues to be an enormous public health crisis that claimed over 46,000 lives in 2018."