A recent New York Times article shed light on a major reason why more than 100,000 Americans die each year from opioid overdoses. For a variety of reasons, health care providers might be reluctant to prescribe medications that can help patients to overcome opioid use disorders.
Prescription medications like Methadone and Buprenorphine lessen drug cravings and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Naltrexone prevents the ‘high’ that substances create.
Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds opioid use disorder has extended to the medications used to treat it. This has led to lack of understanding and misinformation among patients regarding these medications and their benefits.
All of this adds up to the under-use of effective treatments.
Education can be key to overcoming at least some of the objections mentioned here. To that end, researchers have developed a guide to help people who use opioids decide whether to try medication to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD). The guide describes what the patient will feel, when they will take medication, where to get it, the form it takes (e.g. pill, injection, etc.), and expected benefits. The guide also describes the different requirements related to each medication and suggests questions for patients to ask their prescriber to ensure they choose the treatment that best fits their individual work, family, and social commitments.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and from Chestnut Health Systems created the guide for use in their STAMINA study (Syringe Service Telemedicine Access for Medication-assisted Intervention through Navigation). The study engaged high-risk opioid users at community-based syringe service programs. It compared two ways of connecting people to medication for addiction treatment; standard referral vs. immediate telemedicine linkage to a provider and transportation to pick up induction prescription or to attend their intake appointment.
After participants consented to participate in the study, research assistants used the document to describe the different medications, allowed participants to ask questions, and then asked which medication they were most interested in. For participants randomized to the telehealth arm, the research assistant told the provider which medication the client was interested in, reducing the amount of time the provider spent explaining MOUD.
Data researchers collected on the discussions show that participants often did not have a full understanding or had misinformation of the medications that the guide could help to correct. These qualitative data from the study are currently being reviewed in more detail.
Read the study protocol here.