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New Smartphone App Helps Doctors Treat Opioid Addiction

October 21, 2016
With a new push to combat the opioid abuse epidemic, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has launched a new smartphone app providing essential resources for health care providers.

The recent push to get more patients access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction, and more doctors trained to provide it, is now going mobile.

Today, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a new smartphone app designed to provide essential resources and information to doctors interested in utilizing MAT to treat patients with a prescription opioid abuse disorder (POUD).

The MATx mobile app is both Apple- and Android-compatible, and can be downloaded here for free, as well as accessed through respective app stores. The app is one of the latest measures taken by the SAMHSA to spread awareness about MAT to primary care physicians and other health care providers.

Over the years, there has been a stigma attached to MAT therapies, according to Sharon Stancliff, MD, medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. Doctors may be wary of taking on a new accreditation process to be able to prescribe buprenorphine with naloxone (ie, Suboxone) for POUD, and patients may be wary of admitting they need medical assistance for a possible addiction to opioids.

“There’s also a big problem with inadequate access to care across the country. We don’t have enough providers, especially those providing medically assisted treatment,”  she said. As for existing providers, there are not enough slots to treat the influx of patients diagnosed with POUD in need of medical help, said Dr. Stancliff.

The MATx app provides instant access to SAMHSA’s locater tool for helping doctors and patients find the nearest qualified opioid use disorder treatment center. The tool receives regular updates and is intended to be primary physician’s first-line resource for finding immediate qualified treatment if they have a patient possibly suffering from an opioid use disorder.

“Access to these providers is difficult, but even before you get to that point, knowing where and what resources are available in particular communities is important and [MATx] is intended to be very easy to use at the point of service,” said Anita Everett, MD, chief medical officer at SAMHSA.

The app provides practical information on the medications and treatment approaches approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorders. The app also includes:

  • A buprenorphine prescribing guide for practitioners
  • Various clinical support tools, including treatment guidelines, the ICD-10 coding, and recommendations for doctors working with special patient populations

Battling the Opioid Abuse Epidemic

In 2015, nearly 2.4 million Americans had an opioid use disorder. Of that, only a fifth of patients (about 491,000) 12 years or older received some sort of treatment for substance use disorder. It is not clear how many of those patients actually were receiving care for their addiction to opioids, according to Dr. Stancliff.

In response to this public health crisis, the Obama Administration’s 2016 fiscal budget introduced a $133 million dollar budget to combat the opioid abuse epidemic, including $13 million dollars in grants to SAMHSA to develop accessible resources about MAT for patients and doctors, alike.  

The current challenge is getting patients and doctors educated about the benefits and aims of MAT and the medications utilized with it. A wide variety of essential resources currently can be accessed online at SAMHSA’s official website, most of which are available completely free of charge. This includes patient resources available in Spanish. Doctors can contact SAMSHA for acquiring patient resources in bulk to supply private practice offices all over the country.

Getting Trained and Certified for Medication Assisted Treatment

Approved in 2002 by the FDA, buprenorphine is the first medication indicated for the treatment of opioid use disorder that can be prescribed in a physician office setting, unlike methadone, which requires a strictly structured clinical process.

Touted for its numerous safety and practical benefits, buprenorphine is a partial mu opioid agonist regarded for its effective application in the treatment of opioid use disorder. Doctors now can prescribe buprenorphine at a private practice office, health department, community hospital, or correctional facility. SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment programs (OTPs) also can prescribe the drug. Find more info here.

The challenge is getting practitioners trained and certified to prescribe buprenorphine. “Anyone with a valid DEA license has the capability to prescribe buprenorphine for pain but requires the extra waiver to be able to write buprenorphine for someone with an opioid use disorder,” said R. Corey Waller, MD, MS, medical director of the Spectrum Health Medical Group Center for Integrative Medicine.

After taking an 8-hour course, physicians can be approved to treat up to 30 patients per physician. Additional waivers can be obtained to increase this limit to 100 patients in the second year, and 275 patients in the third year. All of this information can be accessed through the MATx app as well, said Dr. Waller.

As for physician assistants and nurse practitioners, SAMHSA is still evaluating how the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 will determine incorporating those health care providers into the waiver process.

SAMHSA encourages all health care providers to download the free app and provide any feedback about the usefulness of its resources. The app also provides valuable information on other medications intended for combatting the deadly consequences of opioid addiction, such as naloxone, for prevention of opioid overdose.

Last updated on: November 10, 2016
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White House Budget: Increased Funds for Opioid Addiction Prevention
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