President Signs Bipartisan Measure to Improve Addiction Treatment

President Joe Biden signed a multi-part end-of-year bill on December 29 that includes the Bipartisan Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act. The measure included in the omnibus package would make buprenorphine—a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for opioid use disorder (OUD)—more accessible to people seeking treatment.

Buprenorphine is proven to reduce overdose deaths, curb illicit drug use, slow transmission of infectious diseases, and help people stay in treatment. But outdated federal laws and the stigma surrounding addiction have kept this life-saving drug from patients who need it.

The MAT Act will help remove these barriers to care. Its implementation includes:

  • Remove legal guardrails that limit the prescribing of buprenorphine. Under current law, health care professionals must go through an extensive registration process to obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) waiver to administer buprenorphine. Waiver covers the number of patients that providers may treat and subjects them to random DEA screening. As a result, only a limited number of providers are willing and able to provide the medication, leaving large areas of the country without access to it. The MAT Act removes the outdated waiver requirement, making it possible for providers across the country to prescribe buprenorphine as they would any other drug.
  • Help previously underserved communities access OUD treatment. Research shows that rural people and communities of color have the greatest difficulty accessing buprenorphine. White, middle-class patients are more likely to receive medication than Black patients. And data from 2017 shows that buprenorphine was not accessible to about 30% of rural residents compared to only 2% of people living in urban areas. By allowing more health care providers to prescribe buprenorphine, the MAT Act will help address some of these inequities.
  • Reduce the stigma surrounding addiction treatment. Now that health care providers can prescribe buprenorphine as they would any other drug, the MAT Act will help make the important role the drug plays in treating OUD by directing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to conduct a national awareness campaign encouraging health care providers. integrating drug addiction treatment into their activities.
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Passing the MAT Act was long overdue. In 2021 alone, the United States lost more than 100,000 people to drug overdose deaths—with 75% of those deaths from opioids. It has been well established that medication is the most effective way to treat OUD, yet only 11% of people with this disorder are receiving medication for their condition in 2020. This bipartisan legislation is an important step forward in helping close that treatment gap.

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Sheri Doyle is the senior manager and Vanessa Baaklini is a senior associate for Pew’s drug prevention and use initiative.


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