New FDA Guidelines to Expand Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

New guidelines to expand medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction will be introduced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a senior official.

The agency will issue draft guidelines in the next few weeks, the official told The New York Times.

Changes will include allowing the sale of medications that ease opioid cravings, even if they don't halt addiction.

In remarks Saturday to the National Governors Association, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II said the FDA intended "to correct a misconception that patients must achieve total abstinence in order for MAT (medication-assisted therapy) to be considered effective," The Times reported.

In 2016, there were nearly 64,000 opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., including from prescription painkillers and heroin.

Federal data shows that only one-third of specialty substance abuse treatment programs offer medication-assisted treatment, Azar noted.

"We want to raise that number -- in fact, it will be nigh impossible to turn the tide on this epidemic without doing so," he said, The Times reported.

Currently, there are three FDA-approved drugs for opioid treatment: buprenorphine (brand name Suboxone); methadone; and naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol). These drugs are safe and effective when combined with counseling and other support, according to the agency.

But the FDA plans to publish new recommendations for drugmakers on the issue, The Times reported.

One will promote the development of new, longer-acting forms of existing drugs for opioid treatment, and the other says new drugs that don't stop opioid addiction but help ease it will be eligible for FDA approval.

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