Study: Medication therapies cheaper than detox for opioid addiction treatment

While most patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction in California undergo medically supervised detoxification, this method is less effective and more expensive than immediately treating patients with abstinence programs and methadone or buprenorphine, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Treatment with methadone or buprenorphine — opioid agonist therapy — provides a measured opioid dose to patients, which can help them gradually wean themselves off the addictive substances. To compare OAT with detoxification, researchers examined data on publicly funded opioid addiction treatment compiled in administrative databases and criminal justice records from 2006 to 2010 in California.

Analysis revealed OAT to be associated with $78,257 in potential taxpayer savings per patient. Additionally, OAT patients experienced a 0.42 increase in quality-adjusted life year. QALY is a generic measure used to establish the economic burden of disease by assessing for the quantity and quality of life lived. Researchers attributed the decreased cost and QALY improvement to staying clean longer, which reduces future healthcare costs, decreases the chances of contracting HIV and reduces costs associated with the criminal justice system.

California, which is home to the largest number of people in the U.S. with opioid addiction, still has regulations in place that favor detox to OAT. In 2015, nearly 80 percent of Americans with opioid addiction did not receive treatment. Among Californians that did receive treatment, less than half received OAT, according to the Los Angeles Times

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