A commentary by representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published in the April 23, 2014, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine
calls for increased use of medications to treat opioid addiction and reduce the number of deaths due to opioid overdose. The medications include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
Adoption of the medications has been slow, the commentary explains, due to inadequate provider education and misunderstandings about the medications among the public, providers, insurers, and patients. Among these misperceptions is the belief that the medications simply replace one addiction with another.
HHS is helping to expand access to and improve use of these medications, as well as to naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids and can be used to reverse an incipient overdose. The National Institute of Drug Abuse is funding research to improve access to the medications, to develop new medications to treat opioid addiction, and to expand access to naloxone by making its delivery more user-friendly, through a nasal spray rather than injection. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to develop state-level strategies to prevent opioid overdose, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has developed the Opioid Overdose Toolkit to educate first responders in the use of naloxone to prevent overdose deaths.