Replacing Abstinence-Based Detox with Methadone Treatment Could Save U.S. Billions, says Study

Prescription and illicit opioids caused more than 33,000 fatal overdoses in the U.S. in 2015 — a death toll that rose to 53,000 in 2016. The White House recently released an official report stating that in 2015, the opioid epidemic caused the U.S. economy to lose $504 billion in costs related to health care, criminal justice, work losses, and fatalities.

However, a new study reveals that replacing abstinence-based detox programs with methadone maintenance treatment for opioid addiction could save the U.S. billions of dollars, as well as the lives of thousands of Americans.

What is Abstinence-Based Detox?

In an abstinence-based detox program for opioid addiction, patients withdraw from opioids while supervised by medical staff who monitor the detox process and lower the risk for complications. An abstinence-based detox is also sometimes called a medically supervised detox. An abstinence-based detox for opioids usually takes place in a hospital or inpatient detox center, and lasts an average of two weeks as patients go through each stage of withdrawal to overcome opioid dependence.

What is Methadone Maintenance Treatment?

Methadone maintenance treatment, or MMT, involves replacing opioids with methadone — an opioid agonist drug that eliminates opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. MMT can last up to several weeks or months, and allows patients to overcome opioid dependence slowly and gradually while going about their everyday lives. MMT can be conducted in an inpatient or outpatient rehab setting, and is often combined with psychological therapies that teach patients how to stay sober after overcoming opioid dependence.

Why Increasing Access to MMT Could Save Money and Lives

The new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at the economic impact of the opioid crisis on the state of California in 2014. In California, patients who are diagnosed with opioid use disorder and who receive publicly funded treatment are required to go through three-week abstinence-based detox programs before trying MMT. In fact, these patients are only given the option to receive MMT after relapsing and “failing” the abstinence-based detox program two times.

Researchers discovered that if California had given these patients the option to choose MMT up front instead of requiring them to try abstinence-based detox first, the state could have saved $3.8 billion on healthcare and incarceration costs that same year. Additionally, California could have saved the lives of 1,262 residents who were suffering from opioid addiction.

Doctors and advocates for MMT say that opioid treatment guidelines in states like California should be changed to allow patients immediate access to MMT without facing obstacles — since MMT has been proven a life-saving treatment for opioid addiction. Without access to medication-assisted treatment, those with opioid use disorders face a greater risk for relapse, overdose, and death.

Opioid Treatment Options

Opioid addiction can be successfully and safely treated using either MMT or abstinence-based detox, as long as the detox method is combined with other therapies that address underlying causes of addiction. Many drug detox centers will customize detox treatments for each individual patient based on their medical needs, personal needs, and history with addiction. For instance, patients who do go through abstinence-based detox programs can receive cognitive-behavioral therapy, and learn how to change their own negative thought-processes and behaviors that lead to addiction.

If you or a loved one needs help fighting opioid addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) . One of our experienced addiction counselors will discuss all your treatment options and help you find the nearest opioid treatment center.

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