Consensus: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives

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Posted Mar 21, 2019

Although three U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to treat opioid use disorder are safe and effective, most people who could benefit from these treatments do not receive them, and access is inequitable, especially among certain subpopulations, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report, Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives, says that withholding or failing to have available these medications for the treatment of OUD in any care or criminal justice setting is denying appropriate medical treatment and therefore unethical.

Access to medications for OUD is inequitable among subpopulations, for example, adolescents and young adults, people in rural areas, and racial and ethnic minority groups.  However, evidence supports the effectiveness of medication for treating OUD in all groups, including adolescents, pregnant women, and people with comorbidities. 

Despite the large and increasing numbers of people with OUD entering the criminal justice system in the United States, medications are often withheld or only provided on a limited basis for medically supervised withdrawal.  As a result, few people with OUD receive medication while incarcerated or under the supervision of drug courts, and often those who do receive medication for OUD are not connected with care upon their release, leading to treatment discontinuation and the associated risks of overdose and death.

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