Brown School

Medications to treat opioid addiction are effective, though not widely used

With more than 2 million Americans suffering from an opioid use disorder and the escalating rate of deaths from opioid overdoses reaching about 130 per day, efforts to date have had little impact in curbing this crisis across the country.

As a result, a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released on March 20 a list of conclusions to deploy the use of life-saving, evidence-based medications with maximum effect.

“This is an outstanding committee that was both scientifically diligent and efficient with addressing America’s opioid epidemic,” said David Patterson Silver Wolf, associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and part of the committee that wrote the consensus study report.

David Patterson Silver Wolf
Patterson Silver Wolf

“The committee’s final report and the conclusions generated must be acted on by all concerned, from our federal agencies down to every system where an individual suffering from an opioid use disorder might enter,” he said.

The committee’s statement of task was to support the dissemination of accurate, patient-focused information about treatments for addiction, and to help provide scientific solutions to the current opioid crisis.

People who suffer from an opioid use disorder (OUD), which is caused by the prolonged use of prescription opioids and/or heroin, are at a 20-fold greater risk of early death due to overdose, untreated infectious diseases, trauma and suicide.

The committee found that OUD is a chronic brain disease resulting from persistent opioid use on brain structures and functioning. The altered brain can be treated with life-saving, FDA-approved medications.

These medications — methadone, buprenorphine, and extended-release naltrexone — are not available to most of the people who need them. By alleviating withdrawal symptoms and/or reducing opioid cravings, the medications help individuals to restore their functionality and save lives, Patterson Silver Wolf said.