The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has announced a measure to increase access to opioid addiction treatment for individuals residing in underserved and rural areas. 

Nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA) can now become DATA-Waived qualifying practitioners, allowing them to prescribe and dispense a narcotic drug in Schedule III, IV, or V for the purpose of maintenance treatment or detoxification treatment without being separately registered as a narcotic treatment program, according to the Federal Register. In order to qualify, the NP or PA must satisfy each of the following criteria:

  • Should be licensed under State law to prescribe schedule III, IV, or V medications for the treatment of pain
  • Must complete not fewer than 24 hours of initial training
  • Is supervised by, or works in collaboration with a qualifying physician, if the NP or PA is required by State law to prescribe medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder in collaboration with or under supervision of a physician

Before the Drug Abuse Treatment Act (DATA) of 2000, only physicians were able to treat patients with opioid addiction and had to register with the DEA as both physicians and operators of narcotics treatment programs.The DEA’s amendment is now better aligned with the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016. The enactment of CARA had changed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to expand the categories of practitioners who could dispense a narcotic drug in Schedules III, IV, or V for the intent of maintenance or detoxification treatment. 

Recent statistics from the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) show that 90% of DATA-Waived physicians work in urban counties, leaving 53% of rural counties without any prescribing physician. The NRHA report found that 92% of substance use treatment facilities were located in urban areas, leaving fewer inpatient and day treatment resources for rural areas. 

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To date, nearly 5,000 mid-level practitioners have been transitioned into DATA-Waived status by the DEA and as a result, are able to treat and prescribe opioid addiction patients.

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