For Rural Patients, Opioid Treatment Centers Often Too Far Away
Methadone is often used in the fight against opioid addiction, but long travel times in rural areas may be hampering efforts to get more people treated, a new study finds.
If methadone for opioid addiction was available in primary care clinics, more people would have better access to treatment, researchers suggest.
In the United States, methadone is only available at clinics certified by the federal government as Opioid Treatment Programs, or OTPs. This restriction, along with state and local laws, limits the number of clinics that offer methadone for opioid addiction.
For the study, researchers looked at drive times to OTPs in rural and urban counties in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. These states are among those hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.
Drive time is important because methadone treatment requires six visits a week to an OTP, the study authors noted.
Except in the largest cities, average drive times to OTPs were longer than to other clinics, the study found.
The average drive time to a methadone clinic was 37 minutes, compared with 16 minutes to other medical clinics and 15 minutes to kidney dialysis centers. In rural areas, the drive time can be close to two hours, the researchers found.
“This study makes clear how poorly accessible methadone is for rural communities harmed by the opioid epidemic,” study author Dr. Paul Joudrey, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University, said in a university news release.
Joudrey noted that another drug, buprenorphine, is used in primary care settings to treat opioid addiction, but it doesn’t help everyone. Addiction experts recommend that methadone should be available in all communities to improve health and reduce death among people who are addicted to opioids.
The report was published Oct. 1 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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