"Trading one addiction for another"
The Tired Narrative:
"Buprenorphine has become both medication and dope," according to a 2013 news article in The New York Times. Again in 2016, The New York Times published an opinion piece with the headline, "Addicted to a Treatment for Addiction."
News articles often raise the negative side of buprenorphine and methadone––FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder. In this context, law enforcement officials are quoted about diversion and black market demand as reasons for the public to be concerned about the use of medication treatment. Other experts lacking scientific credentials describe agonist medications as merely "substituting one addiction for another."
The Informed Narrative:
"Some see medication-assisted treatment as substituting one substance for another and promote abstinence-only. This is not backed by science." - Dr. Vivek Murthy, former United States Surgeon General
Reporters can avoid inaccurate narratives about medications like methadone and buprenorphine by sticking to the science. Methadone and buprenorphine reduce the risk of fatal overdose by 50 percent or more. Patients are physiologically dependent on these drugs, but are not addicted.
To further avoid negative characterizations, journalists can describe the treatment using phrases such as, "medication treatment," "methadone or buprenorphine maintenance," "agonist therapy," "the gold standard of care," or "medications for addiction treatment."
The denial of these drugs to patients with opioid use disorder is dangerous. Methadone and buprenorphine are among the most powerful tools to address America's overdose crisis. These medications are considered the "gold standard of care" for treating opioid use disorders, yet they are vastly underused. Regulatory barriers and public misperception have contributed to gaps in care amidst a deadly overdose crisis.
Research consistently finds that medication outperforms abstinence-only and faith-based treatments on a variety of metrics, such as all-cause mortality and treatment retention.
Connect with Expert Sources:
Dr. Sarah Wakeman, Addiction Medicine Mass. General Hospital
Dr. Kimberley Sue, medical director, Harm Reduction Coalition