For years, Sommer Nolette has taken an Uber every week to a methadone clinic in Washington, Pa., often heading there before sunrise to make it to her job by 8:30 a.m. She estimates a monthly expense of $80 in commuting fees to secure the drug that has kept her heroin-free for seven years.
That expenditure of time and money in seeking methadone is not unique to Ms. Nolette, 29. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands have faced challenges in accessing a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration decades ago to treat opiate addiction.
An estimated 111,877 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. between June 2022 and June 2023, up 2.5% from the year prior, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Amid the country's worsening opioid crisis, a bill introduced this year is meant to help knock down such hurdles. The Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act, or MOTA, calls for expanding who can prescribe methadone to address gaps in availability that disproportionately impact those in less populous areas.
The U.S. Senate will take up the bill on Tuesday.
While harm-reduction experts applaud the bill's intent, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh studying the legislation's potential impact say it doesn't go far enough in improving the accessibility of a drug that has been shown to reduce the risk of a fatal overdose by more than 50%.
"Despite the fact that we know methadone is effective, it's very hard to access in the U.S.," said Paul Joudrey, an assistant professor at the Pitt School of Medicine and first author on a paper published last month in the journal Health Affairs Scholar.
"This means that for many suburban and rural communities, there are really no treatment options for them," he said.
MOTA was introduced in March as a bipartisan bill. Reps. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., and Don Bacon, R-Neb., brought it to the House; Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, brought it to the Senate.
The bill would allow addiction medicine specialists to prescribe methadone from a larger network of clinics. Current regulations say only federally recognized opioid treatment programs may do so, and there is a dearth of such facilities compared to demand.
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