Improve Access to Quality Treatment Programs

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Introductory Paragraph

Over 20 million Americans ages 12 and older are addicted to drugs or alcohol yet only about 11% receive treatment[1]. There is an increasingly important need to provide options for individuals who may benefit from quality and affordable alcohol and drug treatment programs. The demand for treatment is met with a shortage of quality recovery centers in America, which makes it difficult for individuals to receive the care they need. The small populations in rural communities, for example, cannot support the specialized treatment or trained primary care practitioners who are willing to treat individuals living with addiction. This leads to many individuals either going without care or joining waitlists for treatment. Those living with substance use disorders are among the highest cost of healthcare users [2]. Overdose patients in particular place a heavy burden on first responders, emergency departments, and the foster care system[3]. Some options to solve this issue could include innovations such as expanded use of online tools and assessments, integration of primary care treatment, virtual reality, and more .[4].

Key Information

Most recovery support services fall under the Recover-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) umbrella which follows the recovery-related values and beliefs. These include concepts such as people who suffer from addiction have essential worth and dignity; the stigma related to addiction is something that prevents many people who are addicted from seeking help and this must be combated; there are many paths to recovery; access to treatment is a human right, even though recovery might mean something more; people who are in recovery, as well as their families, have valuable experiences and support to offer to those who are still struggling with substance abuse. Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care is based on the idea that severe substance use disorders are treated most effectively through a chronic care management model which involves outpatient care, recovery housing, recovery coaching, and management checkups. They are meant to be culturally sensitive and easy to navigate.[5]

Available Treatment Options

Some available treatment programs are largely based on the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but there is little to no scientific evidence showing that this process is effective. Dr. Lance Dodes stated in the documentary The Business of Recovery that 12-Step programs are typically only helpful for 5-10% of people who partake in them, meaning that they are largely ineffective for the vast majority of people. Treatment programs that are based on AA's 12-Step program, therefore, are not necessarily providing effective treatment, but are still charging exorbitant prices, especially considering that AA is a fellowship that is free to participants outside of treatment programs.[6]

Other treatment programs include recovery coaching, recovery housing, recovery management, peer-led recovery community centers, and recovery-based education.

Implementing treatment in the Primary Care Setting

Primary care providers are highly likely to come in contact with individuals who are struggling with substance use disorders however, only about 3,600 physicians are board-certified in treating addiction [7]. About 4% of all physicians nationwide are certified to prescribe medication for opioid use disorder [8]. A majority of individuals must obtain their medication from methadone clinics. While methadone clinics are helpful in assisting people in getting their medication, it is difficult for specialty clinics to meet the demand for services. This calls for more primary care providers to obtain the training and certifications to treat complex cases of substance use disorders. One possible solution for getting more primary care physicians to assist in this issue is to incentivize the screening and treatment of addiction [9]. There are many challenges that primary care providers may face when choosing to treat addiction patients; there is a stigma and concern for the complexity of this population and the reimbursement for services typically does not compensate the providers and staff for the additional time and frustrations that come with this population.

 Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

Studies conducted on patients with Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD) have found that pharmaceutical interventions when used with psychosocial co-interventions, resulted in better alcohol consumption outcomes. Consequently, this information suggests that adding medication to treatment programs could be advantageous for opioid users. This is referred to as Medication-assisted treatment. [10]

MAT is available in accredited and certified private and public clinics across the United States. The Division of Pharmacologic Therapies (DPT) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration is responsible for overseeing the certification of opioid treatment programs (OTPs). Medication-assisted OTPs include using buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.[11] A combination of medication, counseling, and behavioral therapy is regarded as the most effective in treating opioid dependency [12].

Relevant Research

Cost of Rehab

Drug treatment programs are known for being expensive and difficult to find for some individuals. When people are able to finally enroll in treatment, current research suggests that the benefits of have an impact not only on individuals living with a substance use disorder but, also on healthcare administrations, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system. Recent data suggests that every dollar spent on substance use treatment centers saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice and law enforcement involvement  [13]. Over $8,200 can be saved on health care and productivity costs if an individual spends at least 60 days in a quality substance abuse treatment program, according to one study out of California[14]. This data and the overwhelming amount of research that suggests taxpayer dollars and government resources can be spared highlights the importance of implementing accessible, affordable, and quality treatment centers for individuals living with a substance use disorder regardless of access to insurance or financial status.

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

In 2014, the state of California passed Prop 47: The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. This act reclassified certain theft and drug charges from felonies to misdemeanors enabling focus on more violent crimes and serious offenses. This resulted in monetary savings being used for things such as school programs, victim services, mental health, and most importantly the creation and funding of new drug treatment programs in California. The creation of new drug treatment programs offered a way for those with newly classified misdemeanor drug possession charges to have more options for recovery and hopefully decrease the chance of recidivism [15].

Available Tools and Resources American Addiction Center has valuable information on its website that describes how and where to locate free or low-cost drug rehabilitation programs. The website highlights options for state-funded drug treatment programs, who qualifies for services, and how to local find state-funded treatment options. It also gives valuable information about other possible payment options for treatment such as scholarships, loans, insurance, and how to ask friends and family for support [16].

Assistance Navigating Insurance for Treatment has a site that checks if your insurance provider covers addiction care. This website allows users to search for treatment centers while filtering for treatment type, location, and payment options to include private health insurance, Medicaid, or free or no-cost care. There are also filters for special populations such as veterans, LGBTQ+, differently abled individuals, age groups, and language preference (


myStrength is an online and smartphone platform that can enhance the capacity of mental health service providers by enabling them to serve more people more effectively. It can also provide valuable tools to support the people during the times between professional consultations. There is solid and growing research on the value and effectiveness of this innovative platform.[17]

The SAFE Treatment Locator The first challenge a person or loved one faces after deciding to accept treatment is finding an effective and affordable treatment center. Treatment locators may help those to find an appropriate center that is suitable for the individual based on their insurance/ability to pay, type of addiction, ability to address co-occurring mental illness, distance from home, and other factors. SAFE Project Treatment Locator has worked with the University of Maryland to create a platform that is easy to navigate and provides the ability to search the SAMHSA database using more criteria to help find the best options available. [18]  

Promising Practices

Baltimore, MD

  • The County Health Department has created a dedicated phone line staffed with clinical social workers with specialized training in helping people with substance abuse issues move toward recovery for themselves or their loved ones.[19]
  • This resource, education, and advocacy helpline will operate during normal County business hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.>
  • The County will advertise and extensively promote the new helpline in order to connect families and substance users with the resources they need for recovery.
  • In addition to connecting with County support by phone, individuals may go directly to the [20] for information.

Boston Medical Center

Boston Medical Center opened its Faster Paths to Treatment Opioid Urgent Care Center in August 2016. This center, which is specifically for treating patients addicted to prescription painkillers, is located next to the hospital emergency room, giving patients immediate access to comprehensive care including counseling, case management, home visits, and transportation to detox.

Mobile App reSET-O

Pear Therapeutics has developed an eFORMULATIONS treatment tool for opiate dependence called reSET-O. reSET-O is a mobile medical application that is used in conjunction with pharmaceutical therapies to treat opioid dependence. Clinical trials have shown reSET-O to be a promising solution to opiate dependence, showing that reSET-O plus pharmacotherapy achieved enhanced abstinence from opioids, reduced drop-outs in treatment, and reduced required clinical intervention when compared to traditional face-to-face therapy.

My Life Recovery Program

My Life Recovery Program - This online program has some good recognition. This might be an option for rural areas and/or during incarceration. The program is designed to last 3 to 6 months and consists of bi-weekly online video/audio workshops and practical tools, along with homework exercising, grounding techniques, and supportive emails. [21]

Recovery Centers of America – “ShoutOut” App The “ShoutOut” app delivers comprehensive and evidence-based outpatient treatment for addiction and co-occurring disorders. There are three available levels of treatment available to serve each individual’s needs. Group, individual, and family options are implemented into the program [22].

Using County Jails as Treatment Centers

In Kenton County in northern Kentucky, the prison has become an important treatment facility. Instead of focusing on punishing or just locking up people with substance abuse issues, the Kenton County Detention Center focuses on turning a time of incarceration into a time for much-needed treatment. Leaders in Kenton County believe that jail be the best place to initiate addict recovery. They often end up in jail for minor crimes, long before they commit more serious crimes that warrant a prison sentence. Kenton County is one of over 20 Kentucky county jails that have started full-time “therapeutic communities” that focus on rehabilitation within their walls, providing inmates the type of services that private treatment centers offer on the outside.[23]


  4. [5]Volkow, N. D., Frieden, T. R., Hyde, P. S., & Cha, S. S. (2014). Medication-Assisted Therapies—Tackling the Opioid-Overdose Epidemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(22), 2063–2066.
  5. [1]The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. (2016), Drug-Free Communities, Retrieved from:
  6. [2]Inside The $35 Billion Addiction Treatment Industry. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from
  10. [3]Pharmacotherapy for Adults With Alcohol Use Disorders in Outpatient Settings: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis | Research, Methods, Statistics | JAMA | JAMA Network. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from
  11. [4]Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) | SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from
  16. (
  17. [8]Inc, myStrength. (n.d.). MyStrength | Outcomes. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from
  20. County website
  21. [7]LRP - Home. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from
  23. [12]Opinion | Addicts Need Help. Jails Could Have the Answer. - The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from