A federal policy aimed at improving access in rural areas to buprenorphine, a key medication for treating opioid use disorder, appears to be working, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Known as The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the legislation allows for nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to obtain federal waivers so they can prescribe buprenorphine, which can typically only be prescribed by physicians. The waiver process was considered especially important in rural areas, where there are fewer physicians.

Led by Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management, the study examined federal data and found that the number of waivered clinicians in rural areas increased by 111 percent between when the legislation was enacted in 2016,  to 2019. The study noted that NPs and PAs accounted for more than half of the increase.

Barnett and co-authors wrote that the “rapid growth in the numbers of NPs and PAs with buprenorphine waivers is a promising development in improving access to addiction treatment in rural areas.”

In a Dec. 5 article in The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who co-sponsored the legislation, said that “we need as many qualified providers as possible to treat patients who are struggling with addiction” to effectively counter the opioid epidemic.

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