Deep in President Trump’s plan to combat opioid abuse, overshadowed by his call for the death penalty for some drug traffickers, is a push to expand the use of medication to treat addiction. It’s a rare instance in which Trump isn’t trying roll back Obama administration policies, and where Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together, reports the Associated Press. Trump declared last month that, “we’re making medically assisted treatment more available and affordable,” as Congress approved $1 billion for a new treatment grant program for opioids as part of the massive spending bill to keep the government running. Not to offer such treatment for opioid addiction is like “trying to treat an infection without antibiotics,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the National Governors Association. See also: How Drug Courts Can Respond to Opioid Crisis.
Experts argue that medication-assisted treatment should be the standard of care for people addicted to heroin and other opioid drugs. Acceptance lags. Cost is a barrier, as are government regulations. Some of the treatment drugs are opioids themselves and there’s no consensus on how long patients should remain in treatment. The Obama administration pushed through Congress $1 billion for opioid crisis grants to states. Of that, $500 million was to be released last year and the other $500 million this year. States had to show that their opioid programs are based on clinical evidence, so medication-assisted treatment got a big boost. The 2018 spending bill provides another $1 billion. “The government is talking about treatment and medication-assisted treatment in a way that the government has never done before,” said Tom Hill of the National Council for Behavioral Health. A study by the nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review found that every dollar invested in medication treatment would return about $1.80 in savings, when factoring in society’s costs from lost productivity and crime.