As our country continues to fight the opioid crisis that is affecting individuals in towns across the country, many different preventive approaches are weighed to combat the deadly addiction. Critics blame the government’s approach towards the prevention and treatment of opioid use by using misguided approaches that revolve around old methods, fear, and stigmas. New strategies need to be addressed more frequently, such as preventive sites, easier access to treatment, and better education. Furthermore, many government officials and medical professionals are pushing for medication-assisted treatment. While this may be a viable option for various people struggling with addiction, it may not be the best solution for others.
More than $1 billion has been distributed by the federal government this year to states to address the opioid crisis. In the state of South Carolina alone, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services awarded over $25.5 million to fight the opioid crisis, with $14 million of that to be slated for easier access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Although controversial, MAT has proved beneficial for several people to successfully help treat and sustain recovery. While many believe this method is simply swapping one drug addiction for another, supporters argue that is a misconception. MAT has the capability to reduce cravings, ease symptoms associated with withdrawal, and block receptors in the brain, preventing users from feeling the effects of a substance. Three common approved methods of medication-assisted treatment include buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone.
The most widely used treatment is buprenorphine, which is the main ingredient in Suboxone. Suboxone is prescribed medication and is often the most cost-effective of the three medication-assisted treatments. Although Suboxone has proven extremely beneficial for many, there are some downsides to its effectiveness. Increasingly, Suboxone is being found sold on the street either in pill form or in small, paper-thin strips. While it is illegal to distribute and it is a general concern to be finding it sold on the street, namely from heroin dealers, many point out that it is better to have Suboxone purchased than other deadly drugs such as heroin or fentanyl.
Aside from being sold on the street, Suboxone has also played a dominant role in the “underground economy” of many prisons across the country. The number of people entering prison with an opioid addiction has more than doubled since 2010, estimates the Department of Corrections. To respond to this, the DOC has introduced a number of new initiatives, MATs being one. Naltrexone is used most commonly in the form of Vivitrol; an injectable used to treat addiction. At about $2,000 per shot, it is not as cost effective as Suboxone but does lessen the threat and access of it being smuggled in and sold. While Suboxone shows many benefits throughout communities, there are potential challenges and concern to introducing it and other MATs into prison. Since Suboxone can be easily smuggled into prisons, the desirable drug can be dangerous for those living and working within prisons. The introduction of a controlled substance requires advanced security protocols as the demand can lead to violence within inmates.
While MATs have there pros and cons, and seemingly seem to be a viable option for many individuals suffering from an opioid addiction across the country, there are certain situations where a better solution may need to be strategized.