Study Reveals How Opioid Treatment Is Unavailable to Those Who Need It

A new, federally-funded report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shows that more than 80% of the estimated 2 million people with an Opioid addiction aren’t getting addiction treatment medications. Medicines like Methadone and Buprenorphine – government-approved since 1972 and 2002 for the treatment of Opioid addiction – are known to reduce painful withdrawal systems, help control drug cravings, and increase an individual’s likelihood of completing rehab. Moreover, their use benefits the long-term health of a person and reduces a person’s likelihood of dying from their addiction by half.

Access to medication-assisted treatment can mean [the] difference between life or death.

Michael Botticelli
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2014

A record-setting 48,000 Americans died due to an Opioid-related overdose in 2017. The National Academies group advised the government to dramatically increase prescribing rates for Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone if they hope to reduce death rates. In addition to support from a large portion of the medical community, the advice mirrors that of the US Surgeon General and a 14-person presidential commission to Donald Trump – the group included addiction and recovery experts.

Furthermore, each of the groups asserted that certain barriers to rehabilitation (such as the stigma of addiction, strict prescribing regulations, and access to treatment) would need to be addressed before the Opioid Epidemic could be beaten.

Reducing the Stigma of Addiction,

Unfortunately, many people still see addiction as a failure of morals and character instead of what it really is – a chronic medical disease requiring persistent treatment. The stigma of “poor choices” has prevented the initiation of evidence-based addiction treatment and harm reduction programs across the country.

Methadone and Buprenorphine, for example, are Opioids, prompting some to claim that their use is simply swapping one Opioid drug for another. However, both are designed to alleviate withdrawal pain but are not strong enough to induce a high. Too, the brand name combination of Buprenorphine and Naloxone, Suboxone®, has been specifically formulated to prevent misuse and reverses Opioids’ effects.

After increasing Buprenorphine prescriptions in France, the country saw a tenfold increase in the number of people with diagnosable addictions being treated. In four years, the country saw an almost 80% decline in overdose deaths.

Increasing Access to Addiction Treatment

Still, reducing negative stigma is only part of the problem. Strict regulation on addiction treatment medication means fewer people have access to them in the first place. According to a report released by the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, nearly half of counties nationwide (and 72% of rural counties) don’t have a physician authorized to provide medication assisted treatment (also commonly referred to as MAT).

Currently, Methadone is available only through government-approved clinics and patients must show up each day, in person, to receive treatment (very few people are given waivers to take their medication home due to fears of misuse). Likewise, Buprenorphine can only be obtained from a physician with a prescribing waiver from the DEA – authorization that requires at least eight hours of additional training, the physician must also allow the DEA access to all of their patient records. For people struggling with addiction in the criminal justice system, these medications are either forbidden or rare.

Getting Help for an Addiction

Getting help for an addiction isn’t easy, but it can be life-saving. For more information on addiction treatment resources, visit the SAMHSA website and check out this page for more info on Opioids and addiction.