Why government believes in medication-assisted heroin treatment
While medication-assisted treatment is just one route to recovery from heroin or opioid addiction, it's a path that's gaining support from the federal government.
Among $1.1 billion President Barack Obama asked Congress to authorize for addiction response, $920 million is targeted to expand medication-assisted treatment. This method uses one of three main medications approved by the FDA -- methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone -- to prevent withdrawal and suppress cravings or block the effects of opioids to help avoid relapse.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, says the government is trying to put more money behind these medications because they've been proven more effective at keeping people in treatment, which increases odds of recovery. Science shows, according to Foster, that people battling addiction undergo physical changes in their brains and mental changes in thought patterns. So patients trying to recover need medicine on their side.
"We can no longer view (addiction) as a moral failing. It's more of a treatable medical condition. That's what medication-assisted treatment is about," he said. "You certainly need the social support as part of addiction recovery. But there are just transformative improvements in your probability of staying clean afterward if it is part of a medication-assisted treatment program."
Foster said authorization of the funding for medication-assisted treatment gets mired in Congressional gridlock. But that hasn't stopped him and other lawmakers from taking an active role in the fight against heroin.
U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, a Kenilworth Republican, pushed for a measure to allow pharmacies to sell the overdose reversal drug naloxone, which was included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that Obama signed in July.
U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Plano Republican, was among those who voted for the act and continues to meet with health departments, addicts, prevention advocates and law enforcement to address issues at the root of the epidemic. Meanwhile, Foster is the leader behind a push for affordability and access to a new type of buprenorphine, an implant inserted under the skin to deliver a steady dose for several months.
"During that time, there's a dramatic reduction in the cravings for opiates," Foster said, because buprenorphine is a partial opioid to prevent withdrawal coupled with a partial dose of naloxone to discourage misuse.
Foster is the lead author of a letter sent in June urging the federal department of Health and Human Services to work with pharmaceutical manufacturers to ensure the implant is available and its cost isn't astronomical.
"I am doing everything I can to make sure these are rapidly deployed," Foster said.