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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

South Florida: Dr. Katherine Drabiak Examines Use of Medication Assisted Treatment in Fight Against Opioid Addiction

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids (e.g., fentanyl, oxycodone) and heroin.

Some experts and federal policy makers think medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the most effective way to treat opioid addiction and use. Others, such as Dr. Katherine Drabiak, a University of South Florida College of Public Health (COPH) assistant professor specializing in health law and medical ethics, aren’t so sure, noting that MAT is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

There’s also concern that while opioid users may beat one addiction (to the opioid), they can become dependent on the treatment drug.

MAT uses the drugs buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone, along with counseling and behavioral therapies, to help an opioid user kick the habit and sustain recovery. In fact, in some states it’s now being ordered by the courts.

Dr. Drabiak highlights some of the concerns with MAT in an article she authored, “Expanding Medication Assisted Treatment Is Not the Answer: Flaws in the Substance Abuse Treatment Package,” published in the summer edition of the DePaul Journal of Health Care Law.

“In this research, I wanted to look at the evidence behind the claim that MAT constitutes an effective treatment. I also wanted to know by what metrics the claim is judged,” said Dr. Drabiak. “While MAT may reduce frequency of opioid abuse, the research shows the majority of patients still continue opioid abuse and engage in polysubstance abuse.”

According to Dr. Drabiak, this brings up a number of issues.

“There are discrepancies in the way medications used in MAT are described to patients and in the safety and risk profiles used in FDA product labeling,” she commented. “Does the patient understand the risks and benefits to MAT?”

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