Experts Call for Greater Use of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction

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Addiction specialists and legislators are calling for expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for addiction, USA Today reports. Only 40 percent of the 2.5 million Americans who could benefit from medication-assisted treatment are receiving it, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Buprenorphine (sold under the brand name Suboxone) and methadone decrease drug cravings and greatly reduce the risk of relapse in people addicted to heroin and opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, the article notes.

Medication-assisted treatment is a key part of the Obama administration’s plan to fight opioid addiction. According to Melinda Campopiano of SAMHSA, people addicted to opioids who are given medication-assisted treatment cut their risk of death from all causes in half. Their risk of becoming infected with HIV is also reduced by half, she added.

Greater use of medication-assisted treatment is supported by the the American Society of Addiction Medicine and a number of members of Congress, including Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. The legislators have introduced bills to expand medication-assisted treatment.

Many patients who want to use medication-assisted treatment find their insurance won’t cover it, or will only provide minimal coverage, according to Kelly Clark, President-Elect of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. If an insurance plan caps the amount of time that people can receive the treatment, they can relapse, she noted.

“Some people can taper off of it, but some people need it forever,” Clark said. “We don’t tell people, ‘Let’s decrease your dose of statins and see how you do.’ The goal of treating your cholesterol is not to get you off statins. The goal is to decrease your risk of a heart attack.”

Medicaid programs in at least 17 states will not pay for long-term methadone treatment, according to the Legal Action Center, which advocates for people with drug addiction.

18 Responses

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    July 23, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    I have seen the difference in success with medication assisted treatment. I have been a substance abuse counselor for 20 years and can tell you; the clients I see who are also seen by a mental health provider and medical provider who also understand addiction have a much greater rate of success. Integrated care is important and it is time to let go of old thinking and start a new way of thinking about the disease of addiction. Meet them where they are and then get busy involving other people in their treatment, even if it takes some time. There is no reason why self help cannot be part of the process if that kind of spiritual program could be non-judgmental about MAT. By the way, it is not the only disease that has behavioral symptoms.

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    Max Menius

    July 23, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I have worked in the addiction field for 26 years. Addiction is a topic that generates strong feelings & opinions because of the pain and cost that addiction brings.

    But there are facts which are beyond dispute. It is a fact, not a biased opinion, that medication-assisted treatment saves lives and restores lives. There is no other legitimate point of view. Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds methadone and suboxone is still pervasive in society.

    Those that condemn the use of MAT have no education on how valuable these medications are in saving lives. Becoming a drug user does involve an element of choice, but becoming drug addicted is very different. Many of the people struggling in active addiction genuinely want to escape the pain and to have a better life. There are many different types of compulsive behavior disorders that cause a lifelong struggle for people. Understanding and support can help, condemnation exacerbates the problem.

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    July 17, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    My step daughter is currently a heroin addict. She is 29 years old with a 4 year old child and she is heading to her grave if she doesnt get help. She has OD twice. Her brother died of a heroin OD 3 years ago. My husband could not handle losing another child yet there is no help out there for her. She is on Medicaid so according to the article, they wont cover the drug. Obviously if your on Medicaid you dont have money so she’s caught between a rock and a hard place. My husband and i were just talking about this this morning and said how we wished there was a drug to cut the craving for the drug just like they have for smoking and weight loss. Every rehab is booked. Sad isnt it?

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    Dr. Stephen F. Grinstead

    July 16, 2015 at 6:12 PM

    While not every alcoholic or other drug addict needs MAT; many do. It is the difference like other people have commented between life and death. The science is there. The risk is great. Let’s give people a fighting chance to move into long term recovery and get their lives back.
    Dr. Stephen F. Grinstead, LMFT, ACRPS, CADC-II

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    Scott G Koerner

    July 16, 2015 at 2:41 PM

    I have been on methadone for 16 years. Before that I was a heroin addict for 20 years. MAT has saved my life. I finished school, am able to work and be a productive member of society. I am a father to my son, active in my church, and able to be there for my family. Without MAT none of these things would be possible. I am all in favor of expanding access to MAT

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