AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, sent a letter on June 4 encouraging Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar to include strategies to address the opioid epidemic as part of the agency’s plans to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter highlights HHS’ ongoing efforts to prevent, identify, and treat addiction and pain. It notes that in the face of social isolation and new barriers to care resulting from COVID-19, “the intersection of these two public health emergencies will only heighten the challenges for individuals living with substance use disorders (SUD) and chronic pain and potentially lead to greater incidence across the country.”
To blunt the impact of these new threats and ensure a strong care network exists to meet the existing and potentially increasing demand, the letter recommends:
- Expanding access to buprenorphine prescribers by suspending the waiver requirement clinicians must currently complete.
- Supporting additional investments in expanding the physician workforce, not only through grant funding as announced on June 2 by the Health Resources and Services Administration, but also through predictable, reliable support for new Medicare graduate medical education training.
- Making permanent telehealth flexibilities that temporarily have been activated under the COVID-19 public health emergency, including specific allowances for health care providers treating patients with opioid use disorder remotely.
The letter also reiterates the commitment of medical schools and teaching hospitals to continue advancing cutting-edge research, medical education, and clinical care innovations around the opioid epidemic, and it highlights examples of academic medicine’s efforts.