April 27 (UPI) -- New federal guidelines announced by the Biden administration on Tuesday will allow greater use of a drug proven effective in helping overcome opioid addiction.
At a time when opioid overdose deaths are rising, the change would allow almost any medical prescriber to treat patients using the drug buprenorphine.
Nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives can offer treatment with buprenorphine under the new regulations. A training requirement also has been eliminated. Buprenorphine reduces opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which helps people avoid relapses.
In a message delivered during the 10th annual Drug and Heroin Summit earlier this month, President Joe Biden said his administration was committed to expanding access to drug treatment and to "reducing the supply of illicit substances coming into the United States."
He said a surge in the number of opioid overdoses was driven in part by "rising isolation and financial insecurity" fueled by the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 88,000 Americans died from overdoses during the 12-month period beginning in August 2019 -- a 27% jump from the previous year.
In January, the Trump administration proposed easing rules on prescribing buprenorphine. That regulation, along with others issued late in the Trump term, was initially frozen by the Biden administration.
Tom Coderre, acting head of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, said the new guidelines would help meet the needs of rural areas across the country that lack doctors.
He told NPR that by expanding the practitioners able to offer buprenorphine, "we're more likely to be able to expand access to treatment into those rural areas."