By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced this week the revision of a federal health rule that it says will help expand access to better coordinated care for substance use disorders while allowing those patients to maintain confidentiality.

SAMHSA, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said it is adopting the revised Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulation, 42 CFR Part 2.

“The adoption of this rule means Americans will be better able to receive integrated and coordinated care in the treatment of their substance use disorders,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Elinore F. McCance-Katz, MD, PhD, the head of SAMHSA, said in a statement. “We must do all we can to ensure the greatest access and availability to care for individuals living with substance use disorders. Although well-intentioned, the non-disclosure of critical, lifesaving information the previous rule permitted is itself stigmatizing.”

The 42 CFR Part 2 revision is the latest move from the Trump administration’s broader “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care” initiative, which HHS launched in 2018 to find a balance between the desire to ease regulatory burdens while providing value-based care that maintains patients’ right to privacy.

“Regulatory reform is a key step toward promoting more coordinated care,” HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement. “As part of our Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, these changes are just the beginning of a comprehensive agenda for reforming regulations that govern the delivery and financing of American healthcare, with the ultimate goal of better care, and better health, at a lower cost.”

SAMHSA’s announcement is a reminder that while COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for much of 2020, another healthcare issue has become even worse during the pandemic: opioid addiction. Between mid-March, when the pandemic began, and early July, almost three dozen states have reported an increase in opioid-related mortality.

The cover story of the upcoming September issue of ED Management will address how the COVID-19 pandemic is adversely affecting the care and treatment of patients with opioid use disorder. Experts will explain why they believe emergency departments (EDs) need to expand their role in addressing this problem. In addition, the article will include tips for how ED leaders can start down this road and overcome pandemic-related barriers.