Self-help Groups and Medication Use in Opioid Addiction Treatment
Institute Faculty member Hefei Wen, PhD, leverages rigorous quantitative methods to inform health and social policies surrounding the behavioral health issues in the U.S. Her belief in the power of connection and the possibility of redemption is the driving force behind her research commitment. Her latest study, published in Health Affairs, is the first national study to characterize the relative use of self-help groups, medications, or both in opioid addiction treatment. Study results show that most patients in opioid use disorder treatment are not receiving medication.
We spoke with Dr. Wen to learn more about the study, what the team learned, and the implications of their findings given the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Your new study is the first national study to characterize the relative use of self-help groups, medications, or both in opioid addiction treatment. Can you give us a brief overview of your study?
A: Self-help groups and medications (buprenorphine and methadone) both play important roles in opioid addiction treatment. My coauthors and I used national discharge data between 2015 and 2017 and found that, among all adult discharges from opioid addiction treatment, 10.4 percent used both self-help groups and medications, 29.3 percent used only medications, 29.8 percent used only self-help groups, and 30.5 percent used neither self-help groups nor medications. Use of self-help groups without medication is most common in residential facilities, among racial/ethnic minorities, criminal justice referrals, and uninsured or privately-insured patients, as well as in the South and West.
Q: Did the results surprise you?
A: What surprised me was that the majority of patients in opioid addiction treatment participated in self-help groups, which, however, were only rarely connected with medication treatment. Given the important role of self-help groups in recovery, it is imperative to bring them in better alignment with evidence-based medications.
Our study highlights the subgroups that were particularly unlikely to receive medications for opioid addiction. These groups may be important targets for future efforts to identify and overcome barriers and to create multimodal paths to recovery during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Q: What are the implications of your findings given the current COVID-19 pandemic?
A: During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have experienced anxiety and loneliness, job loss, food insecurity, and disruption to health coverage and care, which may fuel the next wave of opioid epidemic. Furthermore, the public health measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus have disrupted access to peer support and medications for opioid addiction treatment. The DEA and SAMHSA issued emergency guidelines in March to temporarily lift some restrictions on prescribing practices for opioid addiction treatment, such as allowing telemedicine and telephone options in lieu of in-person visits and increased maximum take-home doses. Our study highlights the subgroups that were particularly unlikely to receive medications for opioid addiction. These groups may be important targets for future efforts to identify and overcome barriers and to create multimodal paths to recovery during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Wen H, Druss Benjamin G, Saloner B. Self-Help Groups and Medication Use in Opioid Addiction Treatment: A National Analysis. Health Aff (Millwood). 2020: 39(5).