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addiction

New Study Finds Medication Assisted Treatment More Effective than Drug Detox

November 21, 2017

For those who are publicly insured and facing opioid addiction, including heroin, fentanyl or prescription narcotics, there is hope.  But it may not be what you’ve heard.  In fact, it’s probably the opposite of what many advertisements, public service announcements, media outlets, TV shows, and social media have been telling you.  Groundbreaking research indicates that the traditional medically-supervised “detoxification” process doesn’t work.  Plus, it’s astronomically expensive and excruciating.  Shockingly, abstinence based programs are actually more effective than detox alone, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The most effective way to treat the brain disease of opioid addiction is through medication assistance (MAT), individual counseling, group therapy, and social services support.  Peer support can also play an important role.  Either way you slice it, beating addiction is hard.  It can feel insurmountable at times, but the good news is that tens of thousands of people have entered long-term recovery from opioid addiction.  No single method works perfectly for everyone, but chances are someone with a story similar to yours has found help.

So let’s break down to economic impact of effective addiction treatment compared to drug detox programs.  A study published recently indicated that taxpayers could save nearly $80,000 per person who seeks a comprehensive outpatient treatment provider, rather than detox alone.  Multiply this impact by the nearly 3 million affected individuals and you have a gigantic impact on taxpayers and the economy.

Perhaps more alarmingly, the treatment penetration rate for opioid addiction is around 20%.  That means nearly 80% of people with opioid addiction won’t get help.  A study performed in California found that of those who are fortunate enough to seek help, less than half will receive effective outpatient treatment.  This means that approximately 90% of those facing opioid addiction won’t get effective help.

This has to change.  Unfortunately, though, many states have regulations on the books that push people to detox programs instead of outpatient drug rehab.  For those on Medicaid, some states even require proof that a patient has failed out of detox only programs before approving coverage for a more comprehensive treatment option with buprenorphine.

A study that was published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine emphasized the need for better public policies.  Those limiting access to evidence based treatment options are hurting patients and actively costing taxpayers a great deal.  If for a single year all those seeking treatment for addiction were funneled into outpatient drug rehab with buprenorphine instead of medically supervised detox programs, the collective savings over the lifetime of that single year’s patients would be nearly $4 billion, according to the recent study.

The goal isn’t just tax savings, though, it’s life savings.  If we can collectively pull more people from detox only into comprehensive, evidence-based outpatient care, the outlook for addiction wouldn’t be so bleak.  It’s going to take listening to the research and adapting accordingly.  This means changes to public policy.  It means the media narrative has to change.  It also means less stigma from the general public.  The Annals of Internal Medicine didn’t quite say that we can beat addiction, but this new study lays out the playbook for us.  Now we need to act.

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