One reason the U.S. opioid epidemic is getting worse is that it’s easier to get high than to get help for addiction, reports Vox.com. A new report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, analyzing data from millions of its own customers, recorded a 493 percent increase in people diagnosed with opioid use disorders from 2010 through 2016. At the same time, there was only a 65 percent increase in the number of people using medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to ease opioid cravings, which addiction experts consider the gold standard for opioid addiction care.
The rate of opioid use disorder diagnoses has grown nearly eight times the rate of the most effective treatment. Nearly one percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s commercially insured members were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder in 2016. More than one in five members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015. The higher the dose and the longer someone is on opioids, the more likely they are to develop an opioid use disorder. Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy expert at Brandeis University, says the U.S. has tried to make opioids less accessible by pushing doctors to prescribe fewer pills and going after clandestine labs, many of which are overseas, that produce the synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs. Not much has been done on the other side: making alternatives to opioids more accessible. Congress has added some spending to addiction care (including $1 billion over two years in the Cures Act), but it’s nowhere near the tens of billions that Kolodny and other experts argue is necessary to confront the crisis.