Why Many Addicts Don’t Get Medications That Could Save Them


Doctors and brain researchers agree that medications such as buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone are the most effective anti-addiction weapons available. Still, more than two-thirds of U.S. clinics and treatment centers still do not offer the medicines, Stateline reports. Many refuse to admit people who are taking them. The result is that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans are dying unnecessarily, victims of an epidemic that killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than auto accidents, homicides or suicides. The research is unassailable: Staying in recovery and avoiding relapse for at least a year is more than twice as likely with medications as without them. Medications also lower the risk of a fatal overdose.

Addicts who quit drugs under an abstinence-based program are at a high risk of fatally overdosing if they relapse. Within days, the abstinent body's tolerance for opioids plummets and even a small dose of the drugs can shut down the lungs. And yet as the opioid epidemic worsens — every day, more than 70 Americans die from overdoses, and the numbers are climbing. only about a fifth of the people who would benefit from the medications are getting them, says a new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Among reasons that people who could benefit from the medications are not getting them: Too few health care professionals have specialized training in addiction medicine; insurance coverage is limited; many leaders of traditional drug treatment centers, such as national detox chains and residential rehab programs, are recovering addicts who conquered their own addictions without medication, and greater use of medication could cut into the centers' revenue, by reducing the number of people who opt for expensive residential stays. Smaller clinics that might want to add medication services would have to hire a physician, which many of them could not afford.

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