Alex Azar discusses medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

FDA Expands Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

In the latest effort to combat the nation’s leading public health issue (a phenomenon which took the lives of around 64,000 Americans last year), the Food and Drug Administration is moving to expand medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options for individuals battling opioid addiction. The agency announced this past week that it intends to allow pharmaceutical companies to sell medications that help temper cravings, even if they don’t fully stop addiction. It will issue guidelines in the next few weeks regarding the scope and parameters of these new permissions. The move could be a game-changer for those looking to mitigate cravings and incrementally recover from opioid dependency.

A Departure from Previous Policy

Expansion of medication-assisted treatment options for opioid addiction signals a contrast from former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price who, at one point, said that the use of these drugs was simply substituting one addiction for another. While Mr. Price has since retraced those remarks, expanded use of these drugs was slow under his tenure. His replacement, Alex M. Azar seems to be markedly more receptive to the idea. Azar has also said that he will work hard to help eliminate the stigma of addiction and treat it as a disease, rather than a moral failing. He said the agency intended “to correct a misconception that patients must achieve total abstinence in order for MAT to be considered effective.”

We Can Do Better

Currently, one a third of addiction treatment centers offer MAT. Azar says it will be impossible to curb opioid addiction without raising this number. MAT represents a game-changing and incredibly beneficial resource for the right patients. It can help mitigate long-term withdrawal symptoms while reducing cravings, so patients can improve their quality of life. Drugs like Vivitrol and Suboxone have yielded enormous benefits in the mitigation of active opioid dependency.