Barriers to opioid treatment access in the US

By admin Jul11,2024

This Q&A with Sheeba Ibidunni, public health expert and the VP of operations ​at Sonara Health explores the socio-economic factors fuelling the epidemic, the barriers to accessing life-saving medications, promising government interventions, the impact of state laws, and innovative solutions like telehealth platforms.

Can you elaborate on the specific socio-economic factors that you believe are fueling the growth of the opioid crisis in the U.S.?
There are socio-economic factors that are common among people who use drugs (PWUD), including opioids. These factors include lack of employment, poverty, adverse childhood events, mental health issues and inadequate healthcare to address mental health issues, and systemic racism. Many of these socio-economic factors were highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the US experienced the highest rates of overdose fatalities. 

What are some of the most prevalent systems and biases that hinder individuals from accessing life-saving methadone and buprenorphine treatments?

The system is not set up to help people when they are ready to seek treatment. Oftentimes, there are waitlists, provider shortages, and an insufficient number of beds at facilities that aid with withdrawal management (fka detox). For people who are in treatment for OUD and using other substances like stimulants, when they are ready to enter treatment, the rehab facilities often will not accept patients on methadone and will either turn them away or ask that they change to buprenorphine. Although this policy appears simple, it creates more barriers as those starting buprenorphine must be in a state of withdrawal, which is fear and anxiety inducing. 

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