TN poised to expand access to opioid treatment at community health centers

Published 11:17 am Thursday, April 18, 2024

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There is light at the end of the tunnel for Tennesseans struggling with opioid addiction, as a bill has been passed to increase access to treatment for opioid use disorder at Community Health Centers.

More than 3,800 lives were lost to overdose in the state in 2021, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Emily Waitt, policy and advocacy manager for the Tennessee Primary Care Association, said the original bill limited the number of patients nurse practitioners and physician assistants could treat with buprenorphine. The update removes the limitations, allowing more Tennesseans to access medication assisted treatment in their communities.

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“It allows NPs and PAs to prescribe to 100 patients at a time, versus 50,” Waitt explained. “Basically doubling the number of patients that they can prescribe to.”

Community Health Centers serve more than 423,000 patients across Tennessee, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. About 7.7% of Tennesseans do not have health insurance.

Libby Thurman, CEO of the Tennessee Primary Care Association, said bringing the treatment to rural health centers expands access to a crucial service for patients who otherwise could not afford it. She noted it is important because people in remote areas often face challenges finding specialists and treatment facilities.

“We really wanted to work on this issue, because we know our Community Health Centers are where patients go for care,” Thurman emphasized. “We really believe in an integrated model. So we want to treat the whole person, including if they are struggling with an addiction issue or a substance abuse disorder issue.”

Health Centers offer behavioral health care, including counseling, along with treatment. The clinics also focus on creating a supportive network to help patients with family resources, job assistance and community connections.