We must stop withholding our only life-saving treatment – the only treatment that reduces opioid overdose deaths: medication treatment.
We must – finally – start ensuring access to effective treatment for opioid addiction and overdose prevention.
Tragically, ineffective treatment is the norm; it is all that most U.S. residential treatment programs offer for opioid use disorder (OUD): that is, psychosocial treatment only, without maintenance OUD medication (Beetham 2020) (Huhn 2020). Also, discrimination by recovery services against people in need of maintenance OUD medication is a problem (LAC 2022).
Methadone and buprenorphine are the most effective treatments for most people with moderate to severe OUD, combined wherever possible with psychosocial treatment and recovery support. Injectable naltrexone also has an important role.
Isolated psychosocial treatments (counseling, groups and/or related services by licensed professionals), when provided without medication, have not been shown to be effective – on their own – for OUD; they do not reduce overdose deaths. (Although they may be appropriate on their own for those with mild or recent onset OUD, or for those who are informed of and offered medication treatment but decline).