New Addictions Far Outstrip MAT

New Addictions Far Outstrip MAT

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Not Keeping Up with Skyrocketing Increase in Opioid Addictions, Says BCBS Study

If you have harbored any doubt that America's doctors may be prescribing too many opioids, a study by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) has found that more than one out of every five of its patients - 21 percent - filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015.

The report, America's Opioid Epidemic and Its Effect on the Nation's Commercially Insured Population, looks at "the degree of prescription opioid use-in terms of the dose and duration of opioid prescriptions-and how this relates to opioid dependence."

The BCBS study analyzed medical and pharmacy claims for more than 30 million of its commercially insured members, and found that the number of patients with a diagnosed opioid use disorder (OUD) rocketed up by 493 percent during the seven years from 2010 through 2016.

But the study's survey of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) found that it hasn't kept pace with the tremendous increase in addictions.


The BCBS study found that in 2010, about 1.4 out of every 1,000 plan members was diagnosed with opioid use disorder. This jumped to 8.3 members out of every 1,000 in 2016 - a 65 percent increase. But the number of BCBS members receiving MAT for opioid use disorder lagged far behind that increase.

"Just 3.4 out of every 1,000 members received Medication Assisted Treatment," the report says. "The 65 percent rate of increase in the use of MAT does not match the 493 percent rate of increase in opioid use disorder diagnoses from 2010 through 2016.

"The states with the greatest growth in the use of MAT are not necessarily the areas most impacted by opioid use disorders," the report continues. "Higher rates of treatment relative to opioid use disorder occur in New England and lower rates occur in the South and parts of the Midwest."

More key findings

The BCBS study found:

  • Patients taking high-dosage opioid prescriptions "have much higher rates" of OUD than patients taking low-dose prescriptions, regardless of duration.
  • Women age 45 and older have higher rates of opioid use disorder than men, but for men under 45 it's the opposite. Women also fill more opioid prescriptions than men.
  • Long-duration prescription opioid use and OUD align geographically, with the highest rates in the South and the Appalachian Region.
  • More opioids are prescribed for acute, short term conditions, but prescriptions for chronic conditions are "twice as likely to extend past 45 days and three times as likely to reach a high dose level which leads to higher levels of opioid use disorder."
  • Substance use disorder "is the fifth most impactful condition affecting the health of commercially-insured members in the U.S.," the BCBS report states. "Addressing the opioid epidemic is one of America's greatest public health challenges."
  • The company says it will take "a collaborative effort of health providers, insurers, communities and all levels of government working together to develop solutions that effectively meet community needs."

What is MAT?

Various forms of MAT have been in existence for at least 50 years. MAT involves the use of opioid medications such as methadone or buprenorphine in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat opioid use disorders. MAT medications help lessen opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms while the patient works with counselors to handle the root causes of addiction.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, MAT also includes "optional approaches such as comprehensive maintenance treatment, medical maintenance treatment, detoxification and medically supervised withdrawal."

The envisioned end result of a proper MAT program is a patient off the original opioids (and any other substances that were being abused), medically tapered off the MAT medications, and able to live drug-free.

MAT problems solved

Unfortunately, in some locations where MAT patients are being maintained on replacement medications, it's difficult to find effective - or any - counseling. We have seen long term use of MAT, without counseling, lead to dependency on methadone and Suboxone and ruin the patients' dreams of a drug-free life.

For years we have seen that the two most-used MAT medications, methadone and Suboxone or buprenorphine, are also habit-forming opioids that lead to new issues for patients. Each can prove very difficult and painful to get off without medical help.

That's why, here at Novus, we deeply sympathize with MAT patients who are finding it tough to get the counseling they need or to get off methadone or buprenorphine. MAT has value in "harm-reduction" - patients are no longer forced to live dangerously or illegally. But just giving medication isn't treatment, not the way we see it, not if they're not getting the rest of the help they need.

At Novus, we deal every day with patients' hopes and dreams of getting their lives back. And that's what Novus delivers - specialized medical opioid detox programs that help people become drug-free - including from high-dose methadone and other new medications used in MAT programs.

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

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