On Saturday, February 24, 2018, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Alex Azar announced that the FDA would be issuing guidance documents regarding expanded access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
The recent HHS announcement is part of FDA’s broader effort to encourage new treatments for opioid addiction. MAT combines pharmacological treatment with substance abuse counseling and other behavioral supports. Currently, there are three FDA-approved products for the treatment of opioid addiction, including:
These drugs, which are used to reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction, are intended to assist in the detox process.
Upcoming Guidance Documents
According to an article in the New York Times, the FDA plans to release two new related draft guidance documents in the coming weeks. The first guidance will focus on improving the effectiveness of existing drugs. More specifically, the FDA wants to “encourage the development of longer-acting formulations of existing drugs for opioid treatment.” The second guidance will focus on the development of new drugs that “don’t end addiction, but help with aspects of it, such as cravings, or overdoses, with the goal remaining complete abstinence.” These two guidances will serve as recommendations for drug makers who are interested in developing a product for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD).
Lack of Access
In his announcement, Alex Azar noted that only one-third of specialty treatment programs in the United States utilize MAT. One of the biggest problems with current treatment options is a lack of access for certain patients. Many of these drugs require consistent administration, making it hard for many people, particularly those living in rural areas, to commit to a regular program. A recently approved, once-monthly injectable version of buphrenorphine may be a promising indication of the future of OUD treatment.