On March 1, 2023, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed new regulations on telemedicine access to buprenorphine, widely recognized in the medical community as the gold standard of treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD). These restrictive new policies would undo the more flexible telemedicine policies activated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP) disagrees with the DEA’s proposed restrictions and believes they would decrease accessibility to lifesaving medication.
As a harm reduction-based public health organization serving thousands of patients with OUD each year, PPP witnesses the importance of accessible and nonjudgmental care every day. The number of people in OUD treatment at PPP has increased since telemedicine restrictions loosened. The total number of MOUD patients rose by 32% between 2021 and 2022, and we currently see about 160 patients per month in this clinic. Our number of MOUD telemedicine visits increased dramatically from 121 visits in 2020 to 726 visits in 2022.
Instituting policies requiring in-person evaluation to attain or maintain an MOUD prescription would be especially damaging to people living in impoverished neighborhoods without access to affordable transportation, as well as those living in rural and/or tribal areas. MOUD should be an option for all, not just patients with the financial ability to travel to appointments.
We have seen some momentum towards health equity for people with OUD this year. In February, the Biden Administration removed the X-waiver, an arbitrary and stigmatizing barrier to treatment for OUD. This week, the FDA made Narcan available for purchase over the counter. We must continue to remove barriers to harm reduction tools and treatment rather than build them back up if our aim is truly to reduce overdose deaths in this country.