Is Government Regulation Keeping Americans from Getting Addiction Care?

American doctors have had, for a generation, a treatment that’s proven to work for addictions to prescription painkillers, heroin, and similar street drugs. Overdoses on these opioid drugs killed more than 47,000 Americans in 2017. Yet the American government regulates that life-saving therapy—called medication-assisted treatment, or MAT—in a totally unscientific way, which may be part of why it’s not available in the majority of doctor’s offices or addiction treatment centers in the United States.

That’s a conclusion of a new report, published on Wednesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a non-profit formed in Abraham Lincoln’s time to advise Congress on scientific and medical matters. “The issue is not that there should not be regulation. The issue that we are pointing out is that regulations as they exist aren’t supported by evidence,” says Scott Steiger, a primary care doctor who sees addiction patients in San Francisco, and one of 14 addiction researchers and treatment providers who contributed to the National Academies report.

MAT medications can be tricky because some have addiction potential themselves, Steiger says. But American regulations are based on fears that the research doesn’t support.

MAT treats opioid addictions with a combination of counseling and one of three medicines: methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. Each is designed to reduce opioid cravings. Studies show that people who take methadone and buprenorphine stay in rehab for longer and use illicit opioids less. Those who try to overcome opioid addictions without medicine are more likely to die from all causes, including relapsing and overdosing. Yet only a little more than a third of addiction treatment centers in the U.S. offer any one of the three treatments. Only 6 percent offer them all, the National Academies panel finds.

Read more of this Pacific Standard article by Francie Diep by clicking here.