The top state officials in substance abuse treatment approved a consensus statement in December that states that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) should be paid for by public and private health insurance plans. This was the first time that the board of directors of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD) approved a statement that endorsed MAT as evidence-based treatment. The statement was released January 15. It focuses on MAT for opioid addiction, and is essentially an anti-stigma document, aimed at supporting single state agencies (SSAs)—the authorities over the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment block grant.
The consensus statement is footnoted and includes the following assertions:
- Dependence on alcohol and drugs is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
- No one treatment protocol is appropriate for everyone.
- For some individuals, use of medication is recommended as a recovery tool.
- Where clinically appropriate, use of medication as a recovery resource should be utilized as an adjunct to other treatment services.
Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone (both oral and extended release injection) have been shown to reduce opioid use; and naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate have been shown to be effective in the treatment of alcohol dependence. The appropriate use of these medications allows individuals to experience sustained recovery from opioid and alcohol dependence, including through long-term management using medication maintenance. The medications should be made available to individuals who could benefit from them.
It is recommended that any medication-assisted treatment be combined with psychosocial and behavioral strategies that are clinically matched to the severity of the individual’s addiction.
Longitudinal studies show that treatment initiated in the criminal justice system and continued in the community garners lasting reductions in criminal activity and drug abuse. This includes medication-assisted treatment (e.g., methadone, buprenorphine/naloxone, and injectable naltrexone) for some prisoners with opioid dependence.
“There is still ambivalence around the use of addiction medications,” says Belinda Greenfield, PhD, the State Opioid Treatment Authority (SOTA) for New York. “That’s why NASADAD and the Opioid Treatment Network say MAT is important to be considered as a treatment option.” The SOTAs became part of NASADAD last year when the association formed the Opioid Treatment Network (OTN). Dr. Greenfield, president of the OTN, is also director of the Bureau of Treatment, Addiction Medicine & Self Sufficiency Services of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) in New York State.
The problem—not accepting MAT—is particularly significant outside of the methadone field, but even in the substance abuse treatment world, a substantial number of providers espouse “drug-free” treatment, says Henrick Harwood, research director for NASADAD. “Many public-sector programs feel on principle that drug-free is the best approach,” he says. . However, he points out that over the last several years, many have been changing their point of view. “There’s been growing support for MAT.”
Fight Stigma from Within
Dr. Greenfield says that opioid treatment programs (OTPs) themselves could be better advocates for MAT: they need to be vocal about the fact that patients in MAT are in recovery—they should be called “drug-free” because they’re taking a medication, not seeking a drug. “People in MAT are stable and drug-free, and are maintained on an addiction medication.”
Unfortunately, to some degree, Dr. Greenfield says, patients don’t consider themselves part of the recovery community, and that’s something that OTPs should be working to correct, partly by educating staff. “OTPs should be really actively involved in ROSC functions,” she says, referring to Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care.
It also would help for OTPs to acknowledge that it is not only methadone that constitutes treatment, but buprenorphine, and behavioral therapies as well, says Dr. Greenfield. “We need to consider addiction medications as one of the options. We can’t say we use only methadone. Patients aren’t that cookie-cutter anymore.”
The Medical Mainstream
Stigma relates directly to the mainstreaming of OTPs, says Mr. Harwood. “It’s important to communicate that methadone treatment has moved in the direction of mainstream medication.” Accreditation by the Joint Commission and CARF are helping to promote the fact that OTPs are in the medical mainstream, he says.
Dr. Greenfield also says part of making MAT better accepted means involving patients more—something that is being encouraged in the rest of medicine, as well. “The language around patient-centered care needs to be better integrated in an OTP setting,” she says, noting that patient advisory committees can be helpful in implementing patient-centered care.
Finally, OTP staff need support as well, because they feel stigmatized, says Dr. Greenfield. They should be proud to tell their family and friends that they are working in an OTP, with patients on MAT. “As long as working in an OTP setting doesn’t seem desirable, this is a problem,” she says. “How do we elevate the cachet of working in an OTP and having staff feel proud of the work we do?”
Challenges for SOTAs
In some states, SOTAs themselves have challenges promoting MAT with their own governors and legislature.
“SOTAs are doing everything they can to advocate within their own states,” says Dr. Greenfield. The problem is that despite the scientific literature, methadone isn’t well understood—the fact that it prevents relapse. “Why can’t this rest with the clinicians and physicians?” she asks. Unfortunately, there are places where the legislature and state administrations oppose methadone and OTPs. This hasn’t been a problem in New York. “But the SOTAs and the SSAs in many states have a huge undertaking and a huge task in trying to advocate for methadone.”
One argument that might help sway some MAT opponents is cost-effectiveness. Mr. Harwood notes that the literature documents the cost-effectiveness of methadone and OTPs. “This is something that advocates need to keep in mind,” he says. “It’s not just that MAT is effective. It’s a win-win for society and communities to provide MAT, especially for opioid addiction.”
For the consensus statement, go to http://nasadad.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/13-January-15-NASADAD-Statement-on-MAT.pdf