Doctors who are currently allowed to prescribe the drug buprenorphine to up to 100 patients will be allowed to prescribe that medication to up to 275 people if they obtain a waiver, officials said.
Buprenorphine is one of several approved medications for opioid use disorder, and in oral form has become an increasingly used tool for eliminating opioid withdrawal symptoms in addicts.
Doctors who want to increase the number of buprenorphine prescriptions they can write must have additional credentialing in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry from a specialty medical board and/or a professional society or practice in a qualified setting, according to a press release announcing the increased cap.
Currently, fewer than 32,000 doctors are authorized by the federal government to prescribe buprenorphine. But only about 6,000 doctors write about 90 percent of the total prescriptions in the United States.
Research has shown that recovering addicts who do not manage their dependence with medication are significantly more likely to relapse into illicit drug use than people who take buprenorphine, which is often sold under the brand name Suboxone, or other medications including methadone and naltrexone.
About a quarter of the 2.8 million people estimated to have diagnosed opioid abuse disorder take buprenorphine.
In May, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever buprenorphine implant, a device called Probuphine that is placed in users' arms and lasts for six months.
Behshad Sheldon, CEO of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which is licensed to sell Probuphine in the U.S., welcomed the expansion of the prescription cap, but said more should be done to increasing access to opioid use treatment.
"The steps taken today will help more Americans gain access to evidence-based medicine for the treatment of opioid addiction," Sheldon said.
"Exempting injectable and implantable formulations of buprenorphine from counting toward the patient limit would also make a critical difference. Overall the progress is very encouraging," Sheldon said.