MAYS LANDING — Members of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy visited the John Brooks Recovery Center here on Monday to highlight a policy change from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that will make medications used for opioid dependency more easily accessible.
Federal officials met with local law enforcement, elected officials and members of the New Jersey Department of Human Services for a roundtable discussion and a tour of the center’s mobile methadone clinic, which is only one of five mobile clinics in the state.
The new rule will allow more methadone clinics to take their services on the road.
“What prompted this visit today is we want people to know about this new DEA mobile methadone rule,” said Regina LaBelle, acting director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Our goal is to expand access to treatment for everyone who has an opioid use disorder and specifically at risk populations.”
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Under this measure from the DEA, those who are authorized to dispense methadone, one of three medications that can treat opioid use disorders, will now be allowed to add a mobile component to their existing registration.
This change eliminates the need for a separate registration for mobile narcotic treatment programs and will make it easier for providers to get services to hard to reach and underserved areas.
The mobile clinic at the John Brooks Recovery Center started the summer of 2017.
“And this is the only one (in the state) to go into a jail, that’s how we’re utilizing it,” said Jane Calabrese, who runs the mobile clinic at the recovery center. “Basically it is the (methadone) program on wheels that allows inmates to receive these services. Everything is based out of that bus that’s where we dispense the methadone and have our doctors on site.”
Calabrese said the new federal changes to mobile methadone clinics will make a positive impact on the recovery world.
“It’s going to help people,” Calabrese said.
LaBelle said Monday’s visit is just one of several priorities the Office of National Drug Control Policy has for improving the opioid crisis in the country.
“We’re basically running through them (priorities,)” LaBelle said. “Today’s was the mobile methadone rule, a couple of weeks ago we released with SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) a rule that allows more physicians, nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine, one of the three forms of medications.”
LaBelle said the office has also allowed for federal funds to be used for Fentanyl test strips for users.
“We’re trying to meet people where they are at without leaving them,” LaBelle said.
As of 2018, there were only around 1,500 methadone dispensaries in the country with more than 400,000 Americans receiving methadone for opioid addiction.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nationwide, there were more than 67,500 opioid overdose deaths from November 2019 to November 2020.
“People die if they don’t get these medications,” said Tom Coderre, SAMHSA’s acting assistant secretary.
Coderre said that President Biden’s administration as a whole is aiming to remove any barriers for addicts to receive medical treatment for their opioid dependencies including breaking down the stigma that is often attached to the medications.
“All three of those medications (used for opioid addiction) should be available to anyone who needs them wherever they need them,” Coderre said. “Unfortunately medications for opioid use disorders come with some negative public attitudes ... just like any other disease someone may have where they need medicine to help them, it’s the same exact thing for opioid use disorder. We have to stop shaming people and make sure these medications are widely accepted and accessible.”
Coderre said the federal government could use New Jersey as a model for the rest of the country when it comes to mobile methadone clinics.
“We are hoping that we can expand these mobile units all around the country and we’re looking to New Jersey as one of the leaders in that to show the rest of us how to do it,” Coderre said.
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