As the White House continues to drive its mechanisms for addressing the opioid crisis, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) seems to be the clear focus in the talking points about treatment. Even SAMHSA recently produced a new pocket guide to MAT, aiming to educate and encourage prescribers.
Possibly part of the reason for this is because the use of pharmaceutical products to treat a health condition is a familiar, predictable clinical pathway in U.S. healthcare. We do it for hypertension, heart disease and asthma, for example. With a medication-based therapy, data on costs, utilization and outcomes is easier to track than, for example, with the more nebulous counseling models.
Yes, there’s some good data we can get out of MAT. And the therapy has evidence behind it, so that’s a bonus.
At the American Society of Addiction Medicine annual conference, Indivior—pharmaceutical manufacturer of Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) film—presented a retrospective study that found nearly 43% of those diagnosed with opioid use disorders received MAT, and a subset of only 24.3% received the gold standard of MAT combined with counseling. Among 103,768 commercially insured patients they studied over six years with stockpiled insurance claims data, researchers also found that post-diagnosis, 31.6% of patients were receiving no treatment at all.
Keep in mind that the pharma company would really like more people to start using its products, and that’s likely why it backed the study. However, let’s also keep in mind that pharma companies have the means to do such research when others don’t.
There’s clearly an opportunity to employ MAT more often where it’s efficacious for patients, and there are some large forces at work to drive its use. One question I will continue to have in the back of my mind is whether the cost of buprenorphine and naloxone will suddenly skyrocket at some point in the future. We’ve seen it with other medications. Or perhaps, a newer drug in the MAT class will come along that will command the higher price.
It’s certainly something to watch.