With key legislation ready, Congress must act now to address opioid addiction
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As the opioid crisis continues its devastation across the United States, an important piece of legislation that would have an immediate impact on patients battling addiction is stuck in neutral – the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act of 2017. This bill would expand addiction treatment programs and access to care by enabling Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to administer medication-assisted treatment that would help save thousands of lives across the country, especially in rural settings where alternative resources are scarce and addiction is rampant. The bill appeared on the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s agenda on April 25 but was never addressed. This week, the committee will get a second chance to pass the bill when it meets on Wednesday. The longer the committee waits to act, the more Americans will continue to suffer.

Currently, the nation’s more than 52,000 CRNAs are prevented from treating opioid addictions with medications such as buprenorphine, which ease withdrawal symptoms and improve treatment outcomes. Many of these CRNAs are practicing in rural and underserved communities where access to physicians who are permitted to administer these treatments is limited – there are either no qualified physicians working in the area or the ones that are working are overwhelmed by patient volume, resulting in extended wait times.

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These communities are among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis, with staggering abuse, overdose and death statistics. By passing this measure, the CRNAs and other APRNs across the country would be granted immediate status as qualifying practitioners to provide addiction treatments in these communities.

As experts in pain management and the primary pain care specialists for many patients across the nation, CRNAs have taken a lead role in addressing the current opioid crisis and offering pain management alternatives and substance use disorder treatments. Given the opioid crisis’ outsized effects on rural America, it’s imperative that we maintain enough providers in rural and underserved communities to ensure access to quality, affordable health care.

CRNAs continue to be an under-utilized resource in fighting the opioid crisis as they develop innovative procedures to treat and prevent addiction, including the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocols that allow patients to recover faster after surgery and decrease the reliance on opioids for post operation pain management. CRNAs are increasingly offering services in acute, chronic and interventional pain management that are opioid free or opioid sparing.

This legislation is one important step in helping to turn the tide on the opioids crisis, particularly in rural America. We strongly urge the House Energy & Commerce Committee to pass the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act of 2017 when it meets on May 9.

Bruce Weiner is president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, which represents more than 52,000 nurse anesthetists. AANA’s official position statement, A Holistic Approach to Pain Management: Integrated, Multimodal, and Interdisciplinary Treatment, was published in July 2016.