An estimated 175 people die every day in the United States from drug overdoses, including overdoses from prescription opioid painkillers and heroin. We are witnessing an unrelenting crisis in our country. Getting proven treatment to those suffering from addiction is one of the biggest challenges in battling the opioid epidemic.
The medical community is in agreement that addiction is a chronic brain disease, and like other chronic diseases, addiction to opioids should be treated with appropriate medical care. We have to get the right medicine to those who are suffering in order to stop this tragic cycle of addiction and death.
Federal data show that only one-third of specialty substance abuse treatment programs offer medication treatment, and many who struggle with addiction are not able to find any treatment at all. This year, we are seeing some changes at the federal and state levels that will help expand treatment to proven medications that save lives, including buprenorphine (which includes Suboxone) and naltrexone (Vivitrol):
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): In February, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through SAMHSA, released important new guidelines called Treatment Improvement Protocol #63 (TIP 63). These guidelines stipulate: “Medication is an effective treatment for opioid use disorder. People with opioid use disorder should be referred for an assessment for pharmacotherapy unless they decline.” This statement makes it clear that a core treatment for opioid use disorder is medication, an important milestone because it cements the fact that medication treatment works and is a front line of treatment for opioid addiction.
- Food and Drug Administration: On February 25th, the FDA announced plans to release new guidelines that would encourage drug manufacturers to develop new, longer-acting formulations of existing drugs for opioid treatment and to develop medications that help curb drug cravings, even though they may not fully stop addiction. This announcement follows other recent actions taken by the agency to address the opioid epidemic, including issuing a revised blueprint for its risk evaluation and management strategy for opioid analgesics and recommending labeling changes for loperamide, an OTC commonly used for diarrhea but increasingly misused as an opioid alternative.
- Congressional Activity: On March 21st, the House Energy and Commerce Committee met to hear a set of more than 20 bipartisan bills addressing the opioid crisis. CleanSlate’s own Vice President of Government Relations, Alexis Horan (pictured above), was among the experts speaking before Congress to share their expertise on the opioid crisis. These hearings mark the second of three committee hearings on opioid-related legislation. The committee hopes to send all opioid-related bills to the House floor for passage by Memorial Day.
- State Legislation: States are taking action, too. For instance, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced on March 2nd that his state is ending a policy that delayed getting treatment to people suffering with opioid use disorder. In a nutshell, the Pennsylvania Medicaid program will no longer require doctors to get prior authorization to prescribe medications that are proven to help people with opioid use disorder. The prior authorization requirement often led to delays of 24 hours or more before doctors could provide medications such as buprenorphine and naltrexone. Governor Wolf stated, “Medication assisted treatments work. They are part of an overall strategy that can help all kinds of people. This step that I’m announcing today is going to increase access to this lifesaving treatment for those who suffer from substance use disorder across the commonwealth.” The new policy helps speed treatment and save lives. Pennsylvania is giving insurance providers who run the Medicaid managed care plans 60 days to implement the policy.
I’m encouraged by the increasing support for evidence-based treatment in the battle against the opioid epidemic. At CleanSlate, we’ve been at the forefront of science- and medicine-based addiction treatment since 2009. Our team is on the front-lines of the opioid crisis, expanding treatment by launching new centers in communities across the country and saving lives, one patient at a time. We’ve never wavered from our commitment to delivering the life-saving medication treatment that we know works. And we couple that treatment with a continuum of care that connects patients to critical supports for recovery throughout the community.
While recent policy advancements are good news, there is still so much work to do. We stand with anyone who needs treatment for addiction, and we will continue to work shoulder to shoulder with concerned legislators and our community partners to decrease stigma and increase access to care.