The Trump administration says it's supportive of medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction. However, overly aggressive tactics by Trump's own Department of Justice are likely deterring such treatments and making the crisis worse, one expert tells FierceHealthcare.
Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration searched nine recovery centers in Tennessee and Virginia on a warrant, during which medical records, computers, and anything related to the distribution of drugs were either searched or seized, according to local reports.
Despite all the noise, no arrests were made. However, the clinics were forced to close for the day, leading those seeking treatment to be turned away, and possibly back to the streets. The clinics' president, Dr. Tom Reach, was not available to speak to FierceHealthcare on the issue, nor was the DEA.
"Medication-assisted therapy is recommended in the [president’s] commission report and has been accepted by the President," White House counselor and overseer of the administration's efforts to combat the opioid crisis, Kellyanne Conway, said earlier this month. "We hear from health professionals [that] it is an effective mode of treatment."
On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he supports funding for centers that offer medication-assisted therapies because "we know that [it] works."
At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for broader crackdowns as federal investigators fight the opioid epidemic, raiding clinics in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina in recent months and increasing their focus on the role of corrupt providers at treatment facilities. Last month, federal officials announced five Pittsburgh-area doctors in were charged for giving opioids to addicted patients for cash at treatment clinics.
Critics say such aggressive moves by the Justice Department deter physicians from wanting to provide such medication-assisted treatment, which could make the problem worse.
"Doctors are afraid to treat patients because they worry about losing their license if they need to provide certain doses, as well as the scrutiny about using opioids to treat opioid addiction," Lynn Webster, former president at the American Academy of Pain Medicine, told FierceHealthcare. "There has been a huge increase in investigations, and there are many unintended consequences of those."
Webster said government agencies like the DEA, as well as insurers, often aren't helping the situation for legitimate treatment centers.
"The political pressures to combat this crisis are so great that they're acting without thinking," Webster said. "The DEA doesn't understand what the real problem is. They're trying to show politicians they're doing everything they can with these raids, even though some actions are making the situation worse."