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February 02, 2024

Feds grant greater flexibility for methadone treatment

The federal government is unveiling new regulations meant to modernize methadone treatment, the first major update to patient care standards at methadone clinics in more than 20 years (Source: “Methadone treatment gets first major update in over 20 years,” Stat News, Feb. 1).

The new rules are aimed at increasing access to methadone, which has been used to treat opioid addiction in the U.S. since the early 1970s and has been shown to be highly effective in studies.

Beginning in April, clinic doctors will have flexibility to prescribe methadone in larger doses to new patients and clinics will also have more freedom to prescribe patients “take-home” medication, meaning they would be required to show up at the clinic less often. 

Despite the new flexibilities at the federal level, however, it is unclear how much patients will benefit. States typically regulate methadone clinics more strictly than the federal government, and some clinics often impose stricter standards on their patients than required. While the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sets minimum standards, the agency has little practical mechanism for forcing individual clinics to be more permissive.