How Medication Assisted Treatment Can Combat Opioid Addiction

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Opioid abuse is one of the biggest epidemics to hit the United States in decades. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as 115 people die everyday in the US from opioid overdoses. The total cost of the epidemic to the economy is estimated to be about $78.5 billion annually.

Since the 1990s, abuse of painkillers and other opioids has become ever more widespread. However, new health initiatives and the dedicated recovery centers are working tirelessly to turn the tide on opioid addiction. They have their work cut out for them, but their efforts could save countless lives.

In order to fully understand the scope of the problem and how to solve it, it’s important to examine the many factors that have led to the epidemic in the first place. One of the biggest issues contributing to the widespread abuse of opioids has been the reckless pill-dumping of medications by major manufacturers and distributors  to vulnerable, rural communities. This past week has seen Congress tackle drug executives for pill-dumping in small West Virginia towns, a practice that has been taking place unhindered since 2006.

Between 2006 and 2014, Cardinal Health and McKesson shipped 12.3 million doses of opioids to Family Discount Pharmacy in West Virginia. Cardinal Health shipped a further 10.5 million doses to the Hurley Drug Company during this same period. Testifying in front of Congress, Cardinal CEO George Barrett expressed his remorse over the company’s activities, but apologies simply aren’t enough at this late stage in the issue. At present, West Virginia has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the US, an issue that companies like Cardinal have undeniably contributed to.

Taking executives to task is an important step in treating the source of the issue, but the symptoms still remain. While the slow work of dismantling the corruption of pharmaceutical distributors is being done, there are countless people suffering from addiction who need to be cared for. This, too, is not without its difficulties.

One of the biggest roadblocks currently facing treatment and recovery centers in the United States is the hesitancy of many legislators and healthcare professionals to embrace medications as part of an effective addiction recovery treatment. SOBA College Recovery Medical Director, Dr. Jeffrey A. Berman, has been a vocal critic of this hesitancy, and advocates the use of all possible methods available in the treatment of addiction. When speaking at a recent national conference in Washington D.C., he highlighted the effectiveness of medication-based treatments in fighting addiction.

“America can win the war on opioids and crush the enemy that is destroying lives, families, and communities. It’s time we deploy all of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal to defeat this national scourge and secure victory,” Berman said, encouraging other healthcare professionals to see the potential merits of medications as a form of addiction treatment. But it’s not just Berman advocating for Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT. There are plenty of studies that suggest that MAT might be one of the most effective methods of treating addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, MAT can dramatically decrease opioid-related deaths. After buprenorphine became available in Baltimore, Maryland to be used in medication assisted treatment, opioid-related deaths decreased by 37%. Despite positive results like these, less than half of all privately-funded addiction treatment centers use MAT. Berman’s SOBA College Recovery, on the other hand, has been utilizing MAT in its treatment plans to great effect.

Speaking to the same conference in Washington DC, SOBA’s managing partner, Isaac Glasman, said, “We’ve seen the effectiveness of leveraging and incorporating MAT, particularly naltrexone for extended-release, in our overall treatment strategy. There’s no question that its use has led to improved patient outcomes, fewer incidents of relapse, and better quality of recovery.”

The positive effects of MAT are important to note not just for the short-term health of the individual patient, but for the broader consequences and results too. For example, MAT remains one of the best options for the treatment of pregnant women dealing with addiction, and the prevention of passing addiction on to their children. MAT can prevent withdrawal symptoms in infants when administered to the mother during pregnancy, making it an important method of treatment for eradicating opioid abuse in its earliest stages.

Despite its evident success as a form of treatment, MAT still isn’t being fully embraced by the medical community. Dense bureaucracy and insurance difficulties are slowing the progress of the treatment, frustrating doctors and putting patients at risk. Authorization remains one of the biggest roadblocks when it comes to MAT, and if the state is truly committed to addressing the issue of widespread addiction, accessibility to these life-saving drugs has to be encouraged and supported. Until then, a select few centers like SOBA College Recovery stand as important health providers for the thousands of Americans suffering with opioid addiction.

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