HHS marks two years of Overdose Prevention Strategy

Mar 5, 2024

Earlier in February, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) marked two years of implementation of its Overdose Prevention Strategy launched by the Biden-Harris administration and announced new actions to prevent illicit drug-related overdoses.

As part of the measures taken to curb overdose deaths, the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) approved the first branded over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray, as well as the first generic over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray. Furthermore, HHS has updated OTP regulations for the first time in 20 years, and announced that certain grant funds may be used to purchase xylazine test strips (XTS), as per governing statutory authority and relevant legislation. 

“Test strips are a critical harm reduction tool that help prevent drug overdoses and save lives. XTS are small strips that can be placed within a personal sample of drug supply to detect the presence of xylazine. Xylazine is an active ingredient in a non-opioid sedative approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in animals but is not approved for use in humans. It is increasingly added as an adulterant to the illicit drug supply and is associated with significant and rapidly worsening negative health consequences,” reads the statement released by HHS.

Moreover, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA has finalized a rule to expand access to medication for individuals with opioid use disorder.

“Drug overdoses reach every corner of our society, taking lives and causing immeasurable pain to families and communities. That’s exactly why President Biden made it a key priority of his Unity Agenda. We have made important progress, but there is still a lot of work to do. But we have the tools, evidence-based strategies, and shared commitment across our nation to take on the overdose epidemic,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a released statement.

Specifically, the final rule will expand the eligibility for patients to receive take-home doses of methadone, and allow initiation of treatment via telehealth, including methadone via audio-visual telehealth technology and buprenorphine via audio-only technology. In addition, the final rule will expand provider eligibility to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to order medications in opioid treatment programs (where permitted by law). The final rule also aims to expand access to interim treatment, permitting patients to initiate medication treatment while waiting for services to ensure timely access to care when it is needed.

“This final rule represents a historic modernization of OTP regulations to help connect more Americans with effective treatment for opioid use disorders,” said Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, and the leader of SAMHSA, in a released statement. “While this rule change will help anyone needing treatment, it will be particularly impactful for those in rural areas or with low income for whom reliable transportation can be a challenge, if not impossible. In short, this update will help those most in need.”