AMA Calls For Elimination of Treatment Barriers in Opioid Epidemic

CHICAGO — The American Medical Association (AMA) Opioid Task Force is calling on policymakers to eliminate barriers to treatment and to take additional steps to end the opioid epidemic.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relieversheroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.2

The AMA task force’s new recommendations focus on barriers to treatment for substance use disorder and pain and other policies that result in so few patients receiving care.

These include prior authorization, step therapy, and other administrative burdens as well as inadequate enforcement of state and federal laws that require insurance parity for mental health and substance use disorders.

AMA President-elect Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA said in a news release: “We need help from policymakers to ensure that more people have access to treatment.”

Dr Harris added that physicians are responding to the epidemic and results are being seen in the following areas:

  • A reduction in opioid prescribing of 33 percent since 2013;
  • Increased use of prescription drug monitoring programs;
  • Enhanced education; and
  • Greater co-prescribing of naloxone.

The Association’s new recommendations are:

  • Remove prior authorization, step therapy and other inappropriate administrative burdens or barriers that delay or deny care for FDA-approved medications used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder;
  • Support assessment, referral and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders as well as enforce state and federal laws that require insurance parity for mental health and substance use disorders;
  • Remove administrative and other barriers to comprehensive, multimodal, multidisciplinary pain care and rehabilitation programs;
  • Support maternal and child health by increasing access to evidence-based treatment, preserving families, and ensuring that policies are nonpunitive; and
  • Support reforms in the civil and criminal justice system that help ensure access to high quality, evidence-based care for opioid use disorder, including medication-assisted treatment.

The AMA Opioid Task Force is comprised of the American Medical Association, American Osteopathic Association, and 25 specialty and state medical societies as well as the American Dental Association.