Research Brief: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives (2019)

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recently published a report titled Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives. The report, which doubles as the National Academies’ position statement, is based on extensive review of evidence by appointed committee members. It’s framed as an “independent, objective analysis” of the opioid epidemic, represents the consensus of committee members, and was independently peer-reviewed.

In addition to describing the effectiveness of different drugs—including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone—the study relates treatment outcomes by age and socioeconomic status, as well as by racial group and urban versus rural communities. The authors also describe barriers to treatment, including stigma and system fragmentation.

The report offers seven major conclusions:

1. Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a treatable chronic brain disease.

2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications to treat OUD are effective and save lives.

3. Long-term retention on medications to treat OUD is associated with improved outcomes.

4. A lack of availability of behavioral interventions is not a sufficient justification to withhold medications to treat OUD.

5. Most people who could benefit from medication-assisted treatment for OUD do not receive it, and access is unequal across subgroups of the population.

6. Medication-assisted treatment is effective across all treatment settings studied to date. Withholding or failing to have available all classes of FDA-approved medication for the treatment of OUD in any care or criminal justice setting is denying appropriate medical treatment.

7. Confronting the major barriers to the use of medications to treat OUD is critical to addressing the opioid crisis.

The report states that addressing the epidemic, including by making medication-assisted treatment available to everyone who needs it, will require a cross-sector, “all hands on deck approach.” For more details, check out the full text of the report, published here.