The Biden administration says new federal guidelines released Tuesday will allow far more medical practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug proven to reduce opioid relapses and overdose deaths. The change lowers regulatory hurdles that critics believe sharply limit use of the life-saving medication at a time when drug deaths are surging. "We have made this much easier for physicians but also for other medical practitioners," said Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health, speaking with NPR. The new rules eliminate a training requirement and allow a wider range of health workers to offer buprenorphine treatment, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives. "There's a lack of physicians in a lot of rural areas around the country," said Tom Coderre, acting head of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. "By expanding [buprenorphine guidelines to include] these additional practitioners, we're more likely to be able to expand access to treatment into those rural areas," he added. This move comes at a dire moment in the nation's opioid epidemic. Experts say the spread of illicit fentanyl combined with disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a devastating rise in fatal overdoses.