By Chris Adams

States fighting the opioid epidemic have limited treatment options for people trying to get off the drugs, even though such measures are highly effective, according to a health expert tracking the issue.

Allan Coukell, senior director for health programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said “medication-assisted treatment” – known as MAT, or the use of approved drugs such as methadone – is beneficial. Studies show that with MAT:

  • illicit opioid use is reduced 40 percent to 70 percent, and overdose risk drops as well;
  • the risk of HIV infection is reduced, and hepatitis C and B rates drop;
  • employment among opioid users increases;
  • and criminal activity drops.

But there’s a shortfall of such treatment.

“The ability to provide MAT is way below the need for it,” Coukell said.

In a National Press Foundation training session, Coukell led journalists through a discussion of different state efforts, including the use of MAT programs. Pew has a prescription drug abuse project that documents many of the trends in the epidemic. Other Pew resources include an analysis of efforts by Vermont to mitigate the epidemic and an analysis of how state Medicaid programs can clamp down on opioid overprescribing.