Shifting Treatment Options for Opioid Addiction

Addiction to opioids has been on the rise in the U.S. for years.

Initially the increase could be blamed on the overuse of prescription narcotic painkillers. But as doctors and policy makers tried to nip that problem in the bud, they unleashed a new one: a rise in the incidence of heroin addiction.

Because both types of drugs are opioids, many painkiller addicts have transitioned to heroin as it has become cheaper and more accessible. With the increasing number of opioid addicts, treatment centers, addiction specialists and lawmakers are making changes, and these shifting treatment options impact those who need help.

Treatment Hubs in Vermont

One state that has been particularly hard hit by the heroin epidemic is Vermont. The rise in heroin addicts in the state is causing a public health crisis and in response the government is creating ahub system for treatment. Seven regional hubs provide addicts with medically assisted care, counseling services and other types of outpatient treatment. The state hopes to spend millions in Medicaid dollars on the program and uses the hub system to save on costs.

While the government is addressing the problem of opioid addiction in the state, some experts fear that the hub system may not serve addicts in the best way possible and may not save money in the long run. The system relies on outpatient care, as opposed to residential treatment, and many experts in addiction care believe that it is not enough to help most addicts. Only time will tell if the care is adequate.

Insurance Coverage in New York

New York has also experienced a troubling surge in opioid addicts, particularly those addicted to heroin. In response, the state legislature has a bill in the works that would change how insurance covers addiction treatment. Currently, many health insurance plans refuse treatment for addiction, even when deemed necessary by a doctor. The new bill, if voted into law, would require that insurance companies cover treatment for addiction. Furthermore, it would give the decision about care to a medical professional, rather than the insurer.

Right now, most insurance companies deny or severely limit addiction care. For instance, many will pay only for inpatient residential treatment after an addict has failed in outpatient care. Even in this instance, the inpatient coverage is often limited to seven days. Addiction professionals hope the new law will change this practice. Opioid addicts often need much more treatment than most plans are willing to cover.

Federal Laws Improve Coverage

The federal government has also tried to make changes to help more addicts get treatment. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act signed by President Bush banned the practice of insurers charging higher co-payments for addiction care. President Obama’s Affordable Care Act improved upon Bush’s law and made addiction treatment an essential health care benefit.

The changes made to the types of addiction care offered and how insurance covers such treatment have major impacts on millions of Americans. As the number of opioid addicts rises, these changes are both positive and negative. Getting care to addicts is essential, and changing state and federal laws are ensuring that more people can afford this care. However, as requirements change, governments may also try to save money by providing more outpatient care. Heroin addiction is a very serious disease and having outpatient care isn’t enough for everyone. Some experts worry that these shortcuts in treatment will create bigger problems in the long run. Regardless of the concerns, the increasing awareness of opioid addiction and the expansion of care is overwhelmingly positive.

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