Lawmakers urge White House to abolish X-waiver for buprenorphine prescription

A bipartisan group of six members of Congress on Feb. 8 sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to support their bill that would make it easier for physicians to prescribe buprenorphine, The Washington Post reported.

On Jan. 15, HHS said it would update its guidelines to exempt physicians from the X waiver, a requirement mandated by Congress in 2000 that necessitates physicians receive a day’s training before they can prescribe buprenorphine, a drug that treats opioid addiction and chronic pain. Before he was elected, President Biden supported this measure.

However, since President Biden took office, legal experts warned the administration that HHS is not authorized to issue guidelines that would allow physicians to avoid requirements Congress mandated. 

"On January 14, 2021, HHS announced forthcoming practice guidelines for the administration of buprenorphine for treating opioid use disorder. Unfortunately, the announcement was made prematurely. Therefore, the guidelines previously announced cannot be issued at this time," a message from the White House’s drug policy office obtained by the Post Jan. 27 reads.

Now, a group of lawmakers are reintroducing a bill that would eliminate the restrictions physicians face and urging the president to support it. The lawmakers are Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, and Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio.

"This burdensome requirement does not improve patient safety, but does lead to treatment bottlenecks and a lack of providers across the country, particularly in rural areas," the lawmakers wrote. "This outdated waiver requirement continues to limit access to treatment even as medical professionals are able to prescribe the same drug for pain management without jumping through bureaucratic hoops."

In their letter, the lawmakers also referenced a National Institutes of Health study that showed France's opioid overdose deaths declined by 79 percent over a four-year period after the country took similar measures to make buprenorphine prescription possible without a waiver.

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