We all know that we have an opioid crisis in our country, which is significantly worse in our region. The statistics continue to be staggering. Last year, roughly 11.6 million adults misused opioids in the U.S., and opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death among people under the age of 50 in America.
In Tennessee, the death rate from opioid overdose was up 19 percent in 2015 from the prior year according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and according to Matrix Global Advisors, an economic policy firm out of Washington, D.C., health care costs related to opioid abuse were nearly $423 million in Tennessee in 2011. That figure was $25 billion for the country, and that was more than six years ago.
With the ongoing dialogue on the federal, state and local levels about facing this epidemic head on, we need to ensure that we’re utilizing all of the tools available.
One of those tools is Medicated Assisted Treatments, which are critical to addressing the opioid epidemic. MATs combine behavioral therapies and medication to treat substance abuse with a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model. The most effective way to not only save lives, but also to save healthcare dollars in our country and state is to adequately fund both public and private efforts to treat addictive disorder. Medicare, TennCare and private insurance companies must immediately step up to address this crisis.
As part of medical innovation, MATs continue to evolve and develop. For example, just recently the Food and Drug Administration approved a new buprenorphine product that is given by injection rather than oral administration. Administered in an office setting, it is only part of the comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and support. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of diversion, misuse or accidental ingestion by a child.
Existing state laws presently restrict the use of this injectable formulation, but legislation is moving forward to amend these laws and to increase access to care, while promoting best practice guidelines and limiting diversion.
As policy makers, health care providers, patients, family members, counselors, advocates and so many others come together to fight the opioid crisis that is plaguing our communities, we must remove barriers to access to treatment. Health care providers and patients must have better access to all treatment options, fully covered by all insurance carriers, and the choice of treatment should be made by the health care provider working with the patient.
It is vital that we can get the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.
Dr. Tom Reach is president and founder of Watauga Recovery Centers in Johnson City, past-president of the Tennessee Society of Addiction Medicine, and a member of the Tennessee Buprenorphine Treatment Guidelines Committee that was created by the state General Assembly this Spring and recently completed its work.