The Legal Action Center released a report in March focusing on medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The report stressed that MAT is a key solution to the opioid epidemic that is raging across the country.
The report, “The Case for Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment to Address the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic,” shows that there are clear advantages to MAT. At the same time, the Legal Action Center strongly endorsed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Senator Robert Portman (R-Ohio), which would invest funds in treatment, in particular the comprehensive initiatives that include MAT.
“Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the nation,” said Paul N. Samuels, JD, director and president of the Legal Action Center, in releasing the report. He continued: “Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a heroin and opioid epidemic, with usage doubling in the last ten years. Despite the clear benefits, MAT remains a tragically underutilized tool in helping people enter and sustain recovery. We can no longer ignore effective options. LAC urges policymakers to support legislation that would expand access to MAT and other addiction treatment services.”
In the report, the Legal Action Center advocates increased insurance coverage of MAT, elimination of obstacles resulting from misinformation, enforcement of consumer protections, and increased use of MAT in the criminal justice system.
AT Forum interviewed the Legal Action Center’s director of policy, Gabrielle de la Gueronniere, about next steps after the release of this important report. She said, “MAT continues to be a gap in the treatment system, where there is poor coverage and unequal access in the community and in the criminal justice system.”
Why, at a time when there is such need, and there are proven treatments, are there so many obstacles to MAT? The reasons are stigma and lack of education about how MAT works, she said. One of the problems is that private insurers have traditionally not covered MAT with methadone, and current policies are still not making MAT accessible.
But the Legal Action Center has plans─and they involve going to court. “We’re going to use some of the leverage we have with the parity law and the Affordable Care Act that is meant to equalize treatment for substance use disorders,” she said. The Legal Action Center wants to make sure that all medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration are covered and accessible, she explained, adding, “It does take a multipronged effort, in raising awareness and doing advocacy at the state level.”
The litigation will be aimed at challenging criminal justice policies that deny access to MAT, said Ms. de la Gueronniere. “We’re looking at next steps.” The suit would be brought on behalf of a client.
She recommended that opioid treatment providers and their patients know what services are covered in their states, and “make sure these medications and services are actually covered and accessible.”
In some states, legal action might be the best way to create change, said Ms. de la Gueronniere. For example, in Maine, where the governor is banning the use of Medicaid funds to pay for methadone treatment in an OTP, and wants to transfer everyone to buprenorphine treatment in a physician’s office, the only way to create change may be litigation. “Sometimes, policy advocacy alone is not the most effective strategy,” she said.
The report can be accessed at: http://lac.org/resources/substance-use-resources/medication-assisted-treatment-resources/case-for-eliminating-barriers-to-medication-assisted-treatment-of-heroin-and-opioid-addiction/.