WV: Diversion of Drugs, 1 unitPage 9 of 10

7. Key Concepts in Treating Opioid Addiction

Addiction is a chronic, treatable illness. Treating patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) requires continuing care rather than an episodic, acute-care approach. Patients should have access to medical treatment, mental health services, addiction counseling, and other recovery support services. Treatment should be tailored to each patient’s needs and preferences (ASAM, 2015). In fact, there is no single best approach that works for all patients. A comprehensive approach to treatment is part of addressing the problem of drug diversion. Research shows that many people in need of treatment for substance use disorder do not receive treatment.

  • The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data indicate that 8.1% or 21.7 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment in the past year.
  • In 2015 an estimated 2.3 million people aged 12 or older who needed substance use treatment received treatment at a specialty facility in the past year. This number represents 10.8% of the 21.7 million people who needed substance use treatment in the past year (SAMHSA, 2016b).


The FDA has approved medications to treat OUD and improve patients’ health and wellness. These medications are methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. These medications can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms (methadone, buprenorphine), blunt or block the effects of illicit opioids (methadone, naltrexone, buprenorphine), and reduce or eliminate craving to use opioids (methadone, naltrexone, buprenorphine). People with OUD can benefit from medications for varying lengths of time, including lifetime treatment. Further, studies show that medication as part of treatment of OUD is cost-effective.

Did You Know . . .

Treatment with OUD medication is linked to better outcomes and retention than treatment without medications.

Healthcare providers need special training and certification to prescribe medications to treat OUD. A patient taking FDA-approved medication for OUD can be considered to be in recovery. Clinicians should also be aware that diversion of medications for treating OUD do occur (ASAM, 2015).

Preventing Opioid Overdose–Related Deaths

Opioid overdose–related deaths can be prevented when naloxone is administered in a timely manner. As a narcotic antagonist, naloxone displaces opiates from receptor sites in the brain and reverses respiratory depression that usually is the cause of overdose deaths.

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