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Amid Overdose Crisis, Many Don't Get Needed Treatment

Drugs for treating opioid abuse aren’t reaching most high-risk patients, potentially widening gaps in care as overdose deaths hit record highs. New provisional data show a 15 percent surge in overdose deaths during the pandemic, again raising the question of whether enough Americans in the throes of the addiction crisis have access to potentially life-saving treatments, Axios reports. Nearly 53 percent of patients with opioid use disorder were not prescribed buprenorphine, which reduces the risk of future overdoses, found an analysis of insurance claims from 180,000 people.

More than 70 percent of opioid users who also misuse other substances, such as alcohol or methamphetamine, weren’t prescribed the drug, per the analysis in JAMA Network Open. The analysis said buprenorphine was better at helping prevent future overdoses than another commonly used addiction treatment, naltrexone.“ This is equivalent to giving those with advanced cancer a less aggressive treatment,” said co-author Laura Bierut, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University. “It seems obvious to many of us that we should be giving the most aggressive and effective treatments to those who are most seriously ill.”

Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe buprenorphine for use at home without supervision. Some experts say there’s a lack of data about the drug’s effectiveness in those who misuse multiple substances.. The American Medical Association recommends other strategies, such as making the easy-to-use opioid overdose antidote naloxone available over-the-counter and legalizing the use of strips that test drugs for the synthetic opioid fentanyl. It remains to be seen if the worsening addiction crisis leads to more prescribing of buprenorphine or a broader reevaluation of treatment strategies.


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