When should docs prescribe medication for opioid addiction? New guide released to help

Hydrocodone opioid pills
The new guide, released by the National Quality Forum and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is aimed at growing access to medication-assisted treatment includes strategies for stakeholders across the healthcare system. (Getty/smartstock)

The National Quality Forum (NQF) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) have teamed up to launch a new playbook aimed at growing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction. 

The guide is organized into themes based on key strategies for encouraging MAT use such as addressing the stigma around both addiction and the treatment itself, gaining leadership buy-in and clinical education. 

Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., CEO of the NQF, told FierceHealthcare that the goal was to offer “real strategies for lots of different stakeholder types” in the healthcare industry. 

“It takes a very multifaceted approach,” Agrawal said. “This is a complex problem that cuts over a lot of different parts of healthcare.” 

RELATED: HHS urging providers to use telemedicine for medication-assisted opioid treatment 

Agrawal said tackling the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder—even among clinicians—is one of the cornerstones to making evidence-based treatments like MAT more available to people that need them. 

That stigma “spills over into MAT,” because some clinicians view the treatment as replacing one drug with another instead of a path to recovery, Agrawal said. 

“Chronic conditions that we treat … that are on medications relapse as well, and we view that very differently than drug abuse patients that might relapse,” he said. “There are clinical perceptions that matter.” 

Increasing access to MAT is also a crucial issue for payers to be involved in, Agrawal said, which is why the BCBSA made sense as a partner on this project. 

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Easing payment barriers to these treatments, including reconsidering prior authorization restrictions, are key steps insurers can take to ensure members who need MAT can get it, he said. 

The BCBSA also took immediate steps upon the report’s release to get it into the hands of its Blues plan members, which cover a substantial number of people across the country, Agrawal said. 

“They and their members are seeing all the ramifications of opioid overuse and poor prescribing habits,” he said.