- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Joins Bipartisan Effort Calling for Continuation of Telehealth Visits for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment
BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined a bipartisan coalition of 45 attorneys general in calling on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to permanently permit doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, one of three drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorder, during telehealth visits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA has allowed doctors to use telehealth visits to prescribe buprenorphine, but the rule allowing it to be prescribed virtually is set to expire when the federal public health emergency ends.
In a letter sent to DEA and SAMHSA, the attorneys general say it’s critical for the federal government to continue to leverage telemedicine to support those in recovery and end the opioid crisis. Last year, more than 100,000 Americans died from fatal overdoses, a figure that includes 2,290 people in Massachusetts – the highest rate ever recorded in the state.
“As our nation faces record-high overdose death rates, we need to remove barriers to care and expand access to treatment for those struggling with this crisis,” AG Healey said. “Allowing for continued access to these telehealth services will provide the support and flexibility that individuals with substance use disorder need.”
As a condition of the COVID-19 public health emergency, in March 2020 the DEA allowed audio-visual telemedicine services to prescribe all Schedule II-V controlled substances, including buprenorphine. Without the proposed permanent extension, the expiration of the public health emergency could cut off an estimated 2.5 million U.S. adults who utilize the opioid use disorder treatment.
The current allowance for telehealth services also expands access to buprenorphine to patients who may have previously struggled to receive the medication. “An estimated 28 million Americans live more than 10 miles and about 3 million live over 30 miles from a buprenorphine provider. Today, the delivery of care for buprenorphine treatment has shifted significantly to telehealth, making it more accessible than ever for individuals to access the treatment they need,” the attorneys general wrote.
In the letter, the attorneys general highlight that they are joining a chorus of advocates, addiction treatment providers, medical practitioners, recovery groups, public health experts, and members of the House of Representative’s Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force in urging the administration to permanently extend these telehealth flexibilities for buprenorphine.
During her eight years in office, AG Healey has prioritized combatting the opioid crisis from all angles. Her office is bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to Massachusetts communities through settlements with opioid distributors, manufacturers, and consultants for their role in fueling the epidemic. The AG’s Office has also worked to disrupt drug trafficking networks through the AG’s New England Fentanyl Strike Force, which has seized nearly 439 kilograms of heroin and fentanyl including tens of thousands of opioid pills and arrested more than 580 suspects. The AG’s Office has also provided grant funding to promote equity in substance use disorder treatment.
The attorneys general of the following states and territories signed on to the letter led by Florida and North Carolina: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.