Citing a national epidemic, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to increase access to medication-assisted therapy for the treatment of addiction.

Specifically, Collins, King and 11 Senate colleagues sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell last week urging her to increase the cap on the number of patients a physician can treat for opioid addiction. Currently, it’s set at up to 30 patients in the first year and up to 100 patients thereafter.

“Numerous studies have shown that MAT is cost effective, reduces drug use, disease rates, overdose risk and criminal activity among opioid addicted persons,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “Despite the effectiveness of MAT as one of the tools available to treat opioid addiction, there is significant under-treatment with this proven therapy.”

The senators say those restrictions have created a huge disparity between those who can prescribe opioids and those who can prescribe treatments for opioid addiction. Only 10 percent of the 23 million Americans with addictions and substance abuse disorders receive care in a given year, the letter said.

Collins and King said the federal DHHS has the authority under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 to increase the caps so physicians would be allowed to treat more patients. The letter didn’t specify what would be an appropriate cap.

MAT typically involves a combination of medications and therapeutic support to those addicted to opioids achieve recovery.

For instance, treatment with buprenorphine helps to reduce the transmission of HIV and hepatitis among drug users and the occurrence of high-risk injection practices, the senators’ letter said.

Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine benefit patients by reducing the side effects of withdrawal and curbing cravings.

Citing the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the letter said that of the 2.5 million Americans 12 years old or older who abused opioids, fewer than 1 million received medication-assisted therapy.

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