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Medication that could help victims of opioid use wrapped up in politics

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Posted at 4:07 PM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 16:07:23-05

Advocates say there's a huge need for expanded access to medication as the number of victims affected by opioid use disorder continues to rise.

Looking at pictures of Adam Black in a bodybuilding competition, you'd never know that he's 7 years in recovery from opioid addiction.

“I hit a spiritual bottom and everything around me was falling apart. I couldn’t keep anything together in my life, the drugs become everything to you,” said Black.

When those drugs truly become everything to you, Black says, you "lose yourself."

He describes running out of money and says, "I couldn’t feed my addiction anymore, so I started breaking into unlocked cars, stealing change, trying to feed my addiction and, being an addict, I couldn’t do anything right, couldn’t even be a criminal right.”

He went to prison for three years, and then he ended up in the hospital.

“(I) Got heart surgery. I was like 150 pounds at the time, that was one of my rock bottoms, right there, that changed my life, that I can’t keep going this way.”

It was then that he was able to change. It wasn't overnight, but eventually he found Groups Recover Together, and received medication-assisted treatment.

He says, “I don’t have cravings anymore. I’m able to maintain a job, a family, everything I was working so hard to get, I’m able to have that now, and I owe it all to Groups.”

Dr. Gus Crothers is an addiction medicine specialist. He treats people with substance abuse disorders.

“The treatment is a combination of medication, counseling, and lifestyle changes. And those are the same core treatments we use for managing any chronic disease," said Crothers.

He says one of the treatments has tight, and some say, outdated restrictions. It's known as the "X-Waiver" and it requires doctors to get extra training before they can prescribe buprenorphine.

It's a legal hurdle that dates back to the early 2000s.

“When we have such an access gap to medications, people are thinking we should get rid of the data waiver and get rid of those restrictions that limit access to treatment,” Crothers said.

We asked the Department of Health and Human Services about the waiver, which has become confusing for some.

The Trump administration removed the X-Waiver shortly before President Joe Biden's inauguration. Recently, the current administration reversed that decision. A spokesperson for HHS says the previous announcement was made prematurely, but they are committed to "examine ways to increase access to buprenorphine."

On January 14, 2021, HHS announced forthcoming Practice Guidelines for the Administration of Buprenorphine for Treating Opioid Use Disorder. Unfortunately, the announcement was made prematurely. Therefore, the Guidelines previously announced cannot be issued at this time. However, HHS and ONDCP are committed to working with interagency partners to examine ways to increase access to buprenorphine, reduce overdose rates and save lives.
- HHS spokesperson

Which means, doctors still need extra training to prescribe the treatment, which people like Black say, is life-changing and lifesaving.

“I still take the medication. I’m weaning down as we speak. I sponsor a couple of other guys, I check in with 3 or 4 other people at our group. You can’t do this alone, you need to be there for the people who are going through this," Black said.

You can't go it alone, and Black says, you can get help.