Why Are Those Suffering from Opioid Use Disorder Not Provided the Medical Support They Deserve?
A Crisis in Care: Increasing Access to Medical Support for Substance Use Disorder
It seems self-evident that a medical problem requires a medical solution. A broken leg needs splinting and a cast, while diabetes requires blood sugar stabilization. However, when it comes to treating drug addiction, patients routinely fail to get the medical support they need. Instead, patients with opioid use disorder are often shuffled into substandard addiction treatment facilities where they are briefly stabilized before being sent back to their regular lives. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a “revolving door” problem of chronic relapse and re-entry into treatment.
Even the language we use to talk about addiction points to the disparity in care between substance use disorder and other medical problems. The word “addict” conjures an image of someone weak, possibly homeless, with bloodshot eyes and decaying teeth. This stereotype is powerful and pervasive. The stigma associated with addiction means that affected people go to great lengths to hide their substance abuse problems. Because addiction is often framed as a psychological problem rather than a medical one, patients do not receive high-quality medical treatment they need to thrive.
Given the stereotypes surrounding addiction, it is easy to see why many people do not want to devote precious public health dollars to substance abuse. Yet, the reality is that substance abuse issues cut across race, gender, socioeconomic status, and geography. An addicted person is just as likely to be your friend’s dad, your lawyer, or the construction worker you pass on the way to work.
Addiction is a particularly pressing issue in California. In 2018, CDC figures show that more than 2,400 fatalities in the state were due to opioid-related drug overdose. Most of this was driven by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which increased by 60% from 2017 to 2018. In addition to causing overdose deaths, opioid use disorder reduces work productivity, increases the spread of infectious disease, increases costs of managing related health conditions, and lowers the quality of life. These issues are particularly pressing now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in opioid misuse and overdose.
Access to Medical Resources for Substance Use Disorder
Increasing access to effective treatment for opioid use disorder can dramatically reduce addiction’s personal and societal costs. Yet patients, families, and even primary care physicians are often confused by which treatment approach is best.
One approach promoted by many rehab centers is medication-assisted therapy or MAT. The concept behind MAT is that providing alternative opioid medications can normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric high of using opioids, and reduce cravings. MAT involves the use of methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, each of which is a type of opioid. The drugs bind more tightly to opioid receptors than opioids of abuse but have fewer side effects.
MAT helps patients in the short term, but it has significant long-term consequences. Patients often remain on methadone or buprenorphine for years or even a lifetime. Essentially, this means that they have swapped one addiction for another. Even more concerning, MAT clinics often operate with little oversight. Providers can prescribe buprenorphine after just 8 hours of training. While MAT is intended to include counseling, this does not always happen in practice.
Addressing Drug Dependence
Unlike medication-assisted treatment, effective medical detoxification offers a solution to opioid dependence, and the best foot forward to a complete recovery from substance use disorder. One of the most successful opioid detoxification treatments is Rapid Detox by Waismann Method®. Our medical doctors devise a comprehensive detox protocol that accounts for a patient’s unique medical history, psychological background, and substance use problems. Patients can achieve a complete detox while in a private room within a full-service, JCAHO-accredited hospital. After one to two nights in the hospital, patients move to our exclusive recovery center for continuous support and care. At the recovery center, patients receive support with underlying factors that perpetuate addiction, including chronic pain, trauma, and mental health issues.
Medical detox restores dignity to people struggling with addiction while placing their medical needs front and center. It’s time to increase access to life-saving treatment programs to help patients build healthier, drug-free lives.