The United States is in the midst of the worst epidemic of drug overdose in its history, with heroin and prescription-drug mortality rates nearly five times higher than they were in the 1970s. However, addiction advocates believe it is far harder to get drugs to treat an addiction than it is to get the drugs that cause it, a problem that is helping to perpetuate thousands of unintentional deaths every year, The Washington Post reports.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28,000 Americans died from opioid addiction in 2014. However, fewer than half of the 2.2 million people who need treatment for heroin or prescription drug use in this country are receiving it.

The problem is multi-faceted. There is a major shortage of doctors nationwide willing to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT) like buprenorphine, Vivitrol or methadone, which help reduce cravings and ease symptoms of withdrawal. Those who are willing to prescribe those drugs must take an eight-hour course and apply for a special license to do so. There is also a federal limit on the number of people each doctor who is willing to prescribe MAT can treat.

Meanwhile, nearly every U.S. physician (as well as nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants in many states) can write prescriptions for opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet by signing on to a federal registry. In practice, this means that more than 900,000 practitioners in this country are able to prescribe prescription opioids, but only 32,000 have received a license to prescribe drugs designed to treat people who are addicted to them.

Over the next few weeks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected to propose a change to these prescribing laws that would help increase the number of people a doctor can treat with MAT. However, many addiction advocates believe that the real solution lies in getting more doctors to prescribe opioid treatment, a long-term solution requiring time, money and possibly a change of heart in the medical community.

Another solution would allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to prescribe MAT, much like they can with opioids. That plan, called The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT) is being debated in Congress.

For more information about what the U.S. government is doing to help fight the opioid addiction epidemic, click here.