13 May Cost of Addiction Medications Obstacle for Addicts
Recovering from opioid addiction can be a bit like a well-balanced boxing match: long and painful, and you are almost certainly not going to win every round. Most people with opioid addictions will suffer at least one relapse as they struggle through recovery, and many experience a variety of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms due to their physical dependence on opioid drugs.
Studies have found that certain medications like Methadone and Suboxone can improve the recovery process by both reducing painful withdrawal symptoms and improving patients’ ability to stay clean. One recent study from Maclean Hospital in Massachusetts—an affiliate of Harvard Medical School—found that nearly 50 percent of patients with opioid addictions were able to stay sober if they were prescribed Suboxone, while 90 percent returned to using drugs if they were treated only with traditional abstinence-based approaches.
Methadone is the older of these two addiction treatment drugs, and is still the most widely available. However, the newer Suboxone—a combination of naxalone and buprenorphine—is generally agreed to be superior; it is easier to administer, it is less addictive in its own right, and it has fewer side effects.
Despite these advantages, and the evidence in favor of the effectiveness of these drugs, Suboxone remains out of reach for many people dealing with addiction. Many clinics have not made the drug available and some private insurers will only pay for traditional abstinence-based treatment. Counties and other public institutions that provide medical services for the uninsured are also unlikely to make medication-based treatment available.
Suboxone Can Be Expensive and Elusive
Cost is often the biggest obstacle to receiving Suboxone or Methadone. Suboxone in particular, because of its reputation as well as its relative newness, is very expensive compared to many other forms of treatment. Even the recent FDA approval of a generic form of Suboxone has not done much to reduce the costs. People who must pay out-of-pocket for Suboxone are likely to pay $250 to $300 per month. In addition, patients may need to pay for doctor visits and therapy sessions before they have leapt the necessary hurdles needed for a Suboxone prescription.
The high costs of the drug lead directly to a variety of other access problems. In many areas, public funding for medical services means that counties or other institutions cannot afford to make Suboxone or methadone available. Patients may be forced to travel to find a clinic where these medications are available, which can add both time and money to their ordeal. In other areas, these medications may only be available in a limited number of private clinics, leading to long waiting periods for appointments as these places struggle to accommodate the demand.
The special certification needed to prescribe Suboxone can also limit the drug’s availability. Although the certification process takes a relatively brief eight hours, few doctors seem to take the time to complete it. And even certified doctors are sometimes prohibited from prescribing addiction treatment medications by their employers, who prefer not to pay for that form of treatment.
A Growing Demand as Opioid Addiction Thrives
Opioid addiction has experienced a tremendous boom in the past decade. Prescription opioid abuse became a nationwide epidemic as these highly addictive drugs became more and more readily available. Intensive efforts to combat prescription painkiller addiction have been somewhat successful, although some have had unintended consequences.
The makers of OxyContin, one of the painkillers at the forefront of the abuse epidemic, changed their formula to make their pills much more difficult to crush and snort. As a result, many people who had become addicted to opioids through the use of this drug turned to heroin instead. The illegal street drug is both cheaper than prescription medications and also easier for many people to obtain. As a result, heroin use and addiction is currently in the middle of an unprecedented boom.
This flood of opioid addictions has meant a great wave of people seeking treatment for this disease. If research continues to show benefits from addiction treatment medications, and if a more competitive market brings the price of these drugs down, Methadone and Suboxone will become more readily available. In the meantime, people who prefer this approach to treatment continue to face many obstacles.
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