In a letter containing almost 700 signatures, doctors, researchers and other practitioners urged HHS Secretary Tom Price to set the record straight when it comes to medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment.
The letter, with its 39 pages of signatures, was written to Price Monday after he said during a stop in West Virginia, part of a national listening tour of states hard hit by the opioid epidemic, that medication-assisted treatment is substituting one opioid for another.
“If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much. Folks need to be cured so they can be productive members of society and realize their dreams,” he said.
That contradicts guidance from his own agency, which reflects scientific research supporting the treatments, the doctors and researchers wrote.
However, in a blog post this week Price changed course again, indicating support for medication-assisted treatment. He described hearing from Linda Davis at a meeting in Lansing, Michigan, in which the district court judge talked about how her high school age daughter began using heroin several years ago.
“Her daughter was able to get the help she needed to begin the road to recovery, but hundreds of thousands of Americans today are not. That’s why expanding access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, is another of HHS’s five strategies for combating this epidemic,” Price wrote.
That raised concerns among addiction experts. “The perception that persons receiving long-term therapy with medications—especially with buprenorphine and methadone—are not actually in recovery is widespread but grossly inaccurate,” the letter to Price stated. The medications are precisely what enables people with opioid use disorder to regain their lives, the letter said.
The reported remarks by Price took addiction experts by surprise.
"I was just totally gobsmacked," Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Side Effects Public Media. "I couldn't believe we were having to reopen this conversation. It totally flies in the face of all the evidence.”
In a string of tweets last week, former Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, who was fired by President Donald Trump last month from his post, also called out Price for his comment about the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Murthy countered that science must guide the country’s recommendations and policies when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic.