Parity pales in nation’s opioid crisis

The opioid epidemic in our nation is heartbreaking. We hear the harrowing stories every day of how these substances have torn families apart, damaged relationships, crushed careers and, sadly, taken the lives of more individuals as a result of overdoses than any other substance.

Thankfully, we’ve seen significant strides forward in addressing the issue with the recent enactment of legislation like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).Such policies are paving the way for higher quality of care through various new provisions including increased accessibility of overdose medications for emergency workers.


While this is encouraging to see and certainly a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go. Too many individuals continue to struggle to receive the proper care they need.

As a company immersed in the addiction industry, my team and I are constantly focused on research initiatives that help us understand how to best meet the needs of consumers, treatment facilities, and the industry as a whole.

One of our more recent studies examined the various obstacles preventing people from receiving proper treatment, specifically those who suffer from opioid dependency. There were some significant findings: receiving long-term care, affording treatment and accessing opioid treatment programs are severely impacting an individual’s journey to recovery.

Analyzing Treatment Access

One of our more staggering findings uncovered significant setbacks in funding ideal durations of treatment. Our data show the importance of treatment length as it relates to the likelihood of relapsing.

Across all types of addiction, relapse rates only significantly decrease after more than 90 days of treatment. While relapse rates are not the only measure of treatment success, it is an important outcome metric that can impact one’s recovery journey.

Additionally, the data reveal that how treatment is funded plays a sizable hand in establishing the length of stay and the subsequent chances for the optimal 90 plus days of treatment. The study indicates that the majority of people fund their treatment with government or private insurance; yet, these forms of funding were the least likely to cover 90 plus days of treatment compared to other forms of payment such as self-pay or family support.

In fact, government insurance only covers 90 plus days of treatment 19 percent of the time. That percentage decreases even more for the majority of individuals who rely on private insurance. Only five percent of individuals using private insurance obtain treatment longer than 90 days.

When looking at opioid addiction specifically, there are also several other factors that can complicate the funding process. For example, the initial process of finding and receiving treatment is difficult, but that gets increasingly more difficult for individuals seeking an opioid treatment program (OTP). Research indicates that treatment centers offering OTPs are scarce throughout the United States.

OTPs, as defined by SAMHSA, provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for people diagnosed with an opioid-use disorder. While remaining a topic of controversy, MAT is becoming more desirable as there are considerable amounts of evidence proving its effectiveness when used within a long-term maintenance strategy.

Unfortunately, OTPs are often even less accessible to individuals relying on Medicaid — a large percentage of the opioid dependent population due to epidemic’s devastation in many low-income, rural areas. Complex authorization processes, “failure-first” requirements, and limited prescription refills are common hurdles for these individuals.

Looking Ahead

Of course, these data merely scratch the surface in identifying contributing variables to the opioid epidemic. Addiction is complex, and recovery is a multi-faceted process with many layers. However, we must keep in mind that treatment cost is the top barrier for individuals seeking care.

As we turn our national focus on efforts to increase the quality of addiction treatment, are we also establishing the means by which everyone can access this treatment for an ample amount of time?

While policies and initiatives such as CARA and the  (MHPAEA), can help increase access to quality care, I also see an opportunity for us to work collaboratively in establishing standardized outcomes measures.

Having consistent metrics to evaluate treatment success across the nation can be hugely beneficial in appropriating time and resources with best practices. Additionally, insurers can better understand the (necessary) facets of treatment that result in more positive outcomes when evaluating claims, ultimately resulting in higher quality of treatment for individuals.

Tackling this epidemic takes a lot of moving parts and it certainly will not happen overnight, but I firmly believe that our joint efforts can result in making quality care more accessible for all individuals.

Ruchi Dhami is the Director of Research at Recovery Brands



The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.