Health

Doctors Are Ripping Tom Price's Absurd Comments on Addiction

More than 600 practitioners and researchers called out the health secretary's unscientific, stigmatizing views on addiction treatment.

by Susan Rinkunas
May 17 2017, 7:16pm

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Recall that last week, US Health Secretary and trained medical doctor Tom Price suggested that medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction were simply "substituting one opioid for another," an approach which he said is "not moving the dial much." He seemed more supportive of faith-based treatment programs to help "cure" people, as in praying the addiction away.

These comments made lots and lots of addiction experts angry. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, a division of Price's Health and Human Services Department, directly contradicts his statements, saying that drugs like suboxone and methadone are not simply substitutes and are effective at treating addiction by curbing both withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Price's quote even sparked a tweetstorm from recently ousted Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who explained that evidence shows medication-assisted treatment (or MAT) is effective and safer than drug abstinence. He wrote: "Science, not opinion, should guide our recommendations and policies." (Others in HHS need to hear this.) Murthy later told STAT News that Price's comments aren't just wrong, they're harmful. "It is also important that we not further stigmatize medication-assisted treatment by incorrectly implying that it is not effective. That will only make it harder for people to seek out the care they need."

Now, more than 600 medical professionals have formally urged Price to listen to scientific evidence and set the record straight on medication-assisted treatment. In an open letter sent Monday (embedded below), researchers, academic faculty, clinicians, and medical residents asked Price to unequivocally support MAT and reminded him that his words matter.

The letter states "As a national authority, your words carry great significance for treatment providers, for people seeking treatment, and for their families. Myths about medications are likely to reduce help-seeking and reinforce very damaging stigma, ultimately leading to avoidable harms."

It also asks Price to advance policies that will help treat people with addiction, like increasing the number of MAT clinics so people aren't dying on wait lists, retaining the Medicaid expansion (which is on the Trumpcare chopping block), and no longer criminalizing substance abuse problems.

The letter concludes by shading the hell out of Price and the rest of the administration: "We can make a difference if we work together and follow the scientific evidence, and we hope that you and the Trump Administration will join us in this endeavor." Yes, join us in a world where facts actually matter.

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