The Food and Drug Administration is looking to expand medication-assisted opioid treatment, a type of treatment that often has a stigma attached to it due to being misunderstood. Much of this stigma is ill-suited, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told a U.S. House committee last Wednesday, and his agency is taking action to make these drugs more widely available to those who may need them.
In fact, the FDA is looking at ways increase the usage of “medication-assisted therapy.” This category of drugs is meant to supplement other types of addiction treatment methods. This usually means using drug therapy alongside some sort of traditional therapy, such as support groups and 12 step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Drug therapy is not without its critics. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is among the many critics of using medications to fight drug addiction. They say it’s simple – you shouldn’t use a drug to cure a drug addiction. For example, one of the first of these drugs on the market to help heroin addicts cease using heroin was methadone. According to WebMD, “The action of methadone is similar to other synthetic (man-made) medicines in the morphine category (opioids).”
Suboxone, used primarily to help people get clean from heroin and other opioids, is used to help people stay away from opioids, primarily drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. The drug itself made from a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid medicine in the same class as morphine, codeine, and heroin. (That means it works in the same area of the brain that opioids do, but not necessarily the same way.) And naloxone? On its own, it’s given to people when they overdose on heroin or other opiates.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told a U.S. House committee last week that he is looking at ways to broaden the use of “medication-assisted therapy.” He believes that the science has shown that in conjunction with counseling, it helps people overcome addiction to opioids, and also simply saves lives.
Gottlieb says, however, that people who need medication to help them stop taking potentially deadly drugs should not be stigmatized.
“This attitude reveals a flawed interpretation of science,” Gottlieb told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “It stems from a key misunderstanding that many of us have of the difference between a physical dependence and an addiction.”
This is just one action that Gottlieb is taking to try and streamline action to make drugs available to people who are vulnerable to overdose. One of those actions includes the possibility of changing the label of these drugs to allow them to be prescribed to anyone who overdoses, even if they just show up in the emergency room. The agency is also revising the drugs’ labels to better reflect that people may need a lifetime of treatment.