What We’re Reading: Expanded Access to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment; Top OWS Official Announced; Biden Unveils $1.9 Trillion Relief Package

HHS aims to ease access to medication-assisted treatment for patients with opioid use disorder; David Kessler, MD, named top Operation Warp Speed official; President-Elect Joe Biden unveils coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) relief package.

New Guidelines Aim to Increase Access to Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

HHS announced it will publish new guidelines in an effort to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for patients suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD). Specifically, the Practice Guidelines for the Administration of Buprenorphine for Treating Opioid Use Disorder will exempt physicians from certain certification requirements needed to prescribe buprenorphine for OUD treatment—a roadblock faced by many individuals seeking treatment. The 12 months leading up to June 2020 marked the deadliest period in overdose deaths for the United States. A total of 83,000 drug overdose deaths occurred, which mark not only the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period, but also an increase of over 21% compared with the previous year.

Dr David Kessler Selected as OWS Science Official

President-Elect Joe Biden has selected David Kessler, MD, as the top science official at Operation Warp Speed (OWS), meaning the former FDA chief will soon lead all federal vaccine efforts, The New York Times reports. Kessler, a pediatrician and lawyer, helped to speed the development and approval of AIDS drugs in the 1990s and will replace Moncef Slaoui, PhD. Kessler served as FDA chief during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and is currently the co-chair of the Biden transition team’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) task force. Under his leadership at the FDA, new rules were issued to speed AIDS drug approvals and the pharmaceutical industry created a class of antiviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, some of which were approved within 40 days.

$1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package Unveiled

President-Elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion economic and health care relief package aimed at providing direct aid to American families, businesses, and communities, in addition to ramping up COVID-19 testing and vaccine production and administration, The Washington Post reports. The “American Rescue Plan” will be followed in February by a broader relief plan that Biden plans to unveil in his first appearance before a joint meeting of Congress. Nearly 1 year into the pandemic, the United States is reporting record daily COVID-19 deaths and spikes in jobless claims at rates not seen since August. Of the nearly $2 trillion sum, $20 billion will be devoted to a universal vaccination program, $50 billion for testing expansion, and $130 billion to help schools safely reopen.