Addiction specialists and public health officials chided Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price for belittling the use of medications considered the standard of care for the treatment of opioid addiction, Politico reports. The remarks irked specialists worried by the Trump administration’s law-and-order stance on drug control and its tentative plans to gut the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Ousted Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who was fired by President Trump last month, chimed in about the scientific evidence on Twitter. During a visit to West Virginia this week, Price expressed skepticism of maintenance therapies that use milder opioid drugs, like methadone, to treat addiction.
“If we just simply substitute buprenorphine or methadone or some other opioid-type medication for the opioid addiction, then we haven’t moved the dial much,” Price said, adding that he was encouraged by medications such as naltrexone, which “actually blocks the addictive behavior as well as the seeking behavior.” Buprenorphine and methadone, known collectively as opioid replacement therapy, are considered the standard of care for treating addiction. Specialists noted that addiction is a chronic disease that can be controlled but not, as Price said, “cured.” Murthy tweeted to endorse buprenorphine and methadone as effective medicines. “Some see medication-assisted treatment as substituting one substance for another and promote abstinence-only,” Murthy tweeted. “This is not backed by science.” Other addiction specialists reacted angrily to Price’s criticism of replacement therapy, which HHS made more available during the Obama administration.