Improving opioid treatment in Michigan

New Program Aims to Increase Medication Assisted Treatment Rates for Opioid Addiction

The benefits of using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction are becoming more and more apparent. Most medical professionals agree that MAT is a safe, effective and long-lasting method to reduce cravings and keep people stable, stopping them from turning to potentially harmful drug-seeking behavior and allowing them to live their normal lives. “You’re far more likely to relapse if you can’t control your cravings while you’re going through treatment,” says Amy McKenzie, MD, medical director of Value Partnerships at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “With MAT, you can more effectively manage withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to focus on therapy and activities associated with recovery.”

But there is one problem: There aren’t enough Michigan doctors using MAT on patients with opioid dependence or addiction. Changing that was something the Blue Cross opioid task force recently set out to do. “We discussed several options as to how we could work with our providers to impact this epidemic before settling on MAT.  The program incentivizes PCP’s to become trained and deliver MAT to their patients who are in need of treatment.  The goal of the program is to increase access to this important, evidence-based therapy,” says Dr. McKenzie.

After researching the issue, the task force realized that one barrier to treatment is a lack of physicians approved to prescribe buprenorphine (the drugs used in MAT). Since buprenorphine is a controlled substance, physicians need to obtain a waiver before being able to prescribe it. The waiver requires either a specialty in substance abuse or completion of an eight-hour course—and in many Michigan counties, not a single physician has it. “One reason why physicians don’t get the waiver is a lack of awareness and training” says Dr. McKenzie.

To encourage physicians to complete the course and incentivize them to start using MAT, Blue Cross recently announced a new initiative:

  1. In low access counties in Northern Michigan: Blue Care Network primary care providers receive a financial incentive for obtaining the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine-containing medications
  2. Blue Care Network primary care providers across Michigan who start MAT using buprenorphine-containing medications (waiver required) or Vivitrol (no waiver required) with an opioid-dependent patient receive an incentive for each patient treated (one incentive per patient, per year).

The hope is that with this program, those who suffer from an opioid addiction in Michigan will be able to use all the treatment options available to them. “Historically, the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions like depression and anxiety was a major barrier in seeking treatment and recovery. While recent years have led to improvements in the acceptance and treatment of many BH conditions, that stigma still exists for opioid dependence and drug treatment,” says Dr. McKenzie. “By increasing the availability of treatment options like MAT, we are helping remove that stigma.”

For more on the work being done to fight Michigan’s opioid epidemic, read the following blogs:

Photo credit: Kathea Pinto

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