FINDING HOPE: FDA encouraging development of new medications for Opioid Use Disorder

The Food and Drug Administration is issuing new scientific recommendations that will change the way it evaluates drugs to treat opioid addiction. The agency says the change will allow more flexibility in approving new medication-assisted treatments.

Right now, only three drugs are on the market to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) - buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.

"I think this is really exciting," Rosie Andueza with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said. "To me, it shows there is a better understanding that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. It's a disease and we really need to be treating it as such."

Government leaders agree. 

"The evidence is clear: medication-assisted treatment works, and it is a key piece of defeating the drug crisis facing our country," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. "The FDA's new guidances have the potential to bring new medications to market that are more closely tailored to patient needs and help give Americans facing addiction a better chance at recovery."

Andueza says medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is not a cure for addiction but researchers agree it's the number one approach to helping someone overcome Opioid Use Disorder. 

"Let's compare it to cancer. If we only had three medications to treat the variety of cancers that are out there, we would be screaming for more," Andueza said. "This announcement, to me, says that, 'Yes, we want, encourage and are going to make it easier for that research to happen so that we have more than just three options for the millions of people that are suffering from this disease.'"

According to the FDA, prescription drugs used for MAT stabilize brain chemistry, reduce or block the euphoric effects of opioids, relieve physiological cravings and normalize body functions. Most importantly, it eases the overwhelming symptoms of withdrawal.

"It's the withdrawal effects that make this disease so tough to kick," Andueza said. "People will try to quit and then their withdrawal symptoms become so difficult that they go out and use, so that's why the medication has become very critical." 

Health and Welfare Officials hope the additional research will help get rid of the stigma currently surrounding medication-assisted treatment.

"This is not a matter of druggies doing drugs, it's a matter of sick individuals receiving the medication they need to live a healthy life," Andueza said.

The state's IROC program - or the Idaho Response to the Opioid Crisis - funds MAT for eligible Idahoans who are uninsured or fall in the "low income" bracket.

For more information click here or call 1-800-922-3406.

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