National Academies: Denying access to medications to treat opioid addiction is denying appropriate medical treatment

The denial of Food and Drug Administration-approved medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) should be considered a denial of appropriate medical treatment, according to a new report (PDF) from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. 

With support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse as well as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the report called OUD a treatable chronic brain disease and said evidence-based treatment using medication is effective and associated with long-term improved outcomes.

However, the report said, only a fraction of those individuals who receive treatment for OUD receive medications for their condition. 

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The reasons for uneven access are many, the report said. Among the barriers: inadequate education and training of professionals working with individuals who have OUD, including treatment providers and criminal justice personnel, as well as regulations around methadone and buprenorphine which greatly limits their access.

The report also cited the fragmented system of care for patients with OUD as well as payment policies for such treatment. 

"A lack of availability of behavioral interventions is not a sufficient justification to withhold medications to treat opioid use disorder," the report concluded.

The report came just a day after White House officials briefed the media on their latest efforts to combat the opioid crisis and cited figures indicating signs of progress. Among those signs is a 25% drop in opioid prescribing in the past year, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday during a call with reporters. She also said overdose deaths grew by 10% in President Trump's first year in office after growing 22% the year before. The availability of treatment beds has also through Medicaid waivers, she said. 

"The whole-of-government approach through this initiative over the last year has really focused on three key areas: prevention and education, interdiction and law enforcement, and treatment and recovery," Conway said.