Opioid abuse and addiction in America has reached epidemic heights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 40,000 lives lost in 2016 from overdosing on these pain management treatments. What’s more, as a nation it’s estimated that we’re spending over $500 billion annually in health and social costs to combat this epidemic.
Writing for The Washington Post last week, Brian Barnett, an addiction psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School shares a front row view into this devastating crisis, pointing out that while very effective medical treatments do exist – they can only make a difference if accessible.
“[M]edications have been shown to at least double a patient’s chances of remaining abstinent from illicit opioids and dramatically reduce overdose deaths. Without them, about 80 percent of patients using heroin relapse within the first month after detoxification.”
Unfortunately, restrictive insurance policies and red tape can stand between patients and the lifesaving medicines they need. For example:
“Insurers argue that [prior authorization] exists for safety reasons. What they don’t want to admit is that they are conducting a war of attrition against the addiction treatment community to reduce their short-term costs. In fact, studies show that prior authorizations for medication-assisted treatment are associated with increased rates of relapse and decreased retention in treatment.”
Consistent with BIO’s recommendations, Barnett agrees that we can succeed in combating America’s opioid crisis by breaking the barriers that impede patients’ access to the most appropriate treatments – including medication assisted treatments – which will help manage this growing public health crisis.
“Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction brings innumerable benefits to both patients and society: It allows many addicted individuals to stop committing crimes, rejoin the workforce, reunite with their families and reintegrate into their community. Thanks to medication-assisted treatment, I have personally witnessed dramatic transformations. It’s like watching chemotherapy curing a patient with cancer.”
Read the full op-ed here.
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