People with opioid use disorder are not receiving life-saving medication
While the opioid overdose and death epidemic continues to worsen across the United States, medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and extended-release naltrexone are proven to reduce opioid overdoses by more than 50 percent. New findings led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine indicate the vast majority, or 86.6 percent, of people living with opioid use disorder (OUD), are not receiving these evidence-based, life-saving medications.
The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, examined the gap between new estimates of OUD prevalence and the use of medications to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD) at the national and state levels from 2010 through 2019. Although the use of MOUD has grown by more than 100 percent over the last decade, this rise in treatment has failed to keep pace with OUD and skyrocketing overdose mortality rates—largely driven by fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
"Our findings highlight the urgency of removing barriers to accessing medications to treat opioid use disorder while expanding the availability of these medications," says Noa Krawczyk, lead author of the study. "But what we have is way beyond a simple treatment capacity problem. We need to rethink how treatment for opioid use disorder is delivered, eliminate stigma, make it easier for people to enter and remain in treatment, as well as ensure that all treatment programs provide and encourage the use of evidence-based medications that we know save lives."
Ways to expand access to MOUD could include removing special waiver requirements so that more physicians can prescribe buprenorphine, as well as expanding the deployment of MOUD by mobile health clinics and community-based organizations, and within the criminal justice system. Making methadone less controlled and more accessible through avenues other than highly regulated opioid treatment programs is also long overdue, said Krawczyk.
Noa Krawczyk et. al, Has the treatment gap for opioid use disorder narrowed in the U.S.?: A yearly assessment from 2010 to 2019", International Journal of Drug Policy, 4-Aug-2022
B.Sc Life Sciences, M.Sc Biotechnology, B.Ed