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SNAPSHOT: Treatment Access and the Opioid Crisis

Physical proximity to treatment options, while not a cure-all for the U.S. opioid epidemic, can help curb opioid-related harm, a new study found.

In recent years efforts to reduce opioid-related mortality and hospitalizations have expanded, such as the number of treatment programs and prescription drug monitoring efforts. However, from 2010 to 2015, the rate of opioid overdose mortality per 100,000 New York state residents doubled. Opioid-related deaths are also still on the rise in 29 other states.

Heroin syringe next to a bottle of prescription opioids.
Heroin syringe next to a bottle of prescription opioids.

As part of the quest to figure out what strategies have and haven’t been working, researchers asked whether geographic access to treatment programs, federally qualified health centers, and buprenorphine providers affected opioid-related health outcomes in New York state from 2012 to 2014. (Buprenorphine is a medication used to ease withdrawal symptoms.) They found that while it’s not enough to put an end to the crisis, access to these resources can help offset rising opioid-related death rates.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, was authored by CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy professors Sean Haley, Andrew Maroko, Katarzyna Wyka, and alumna Margaret Baker.

“Ensuring access to substance abuse treatment is not a panacea for the opioid epidemic, but this study suggests that it likely remains an important strategy for reducing opioid related deaths,” Haley said in an interview with SPH.

The researchers note that further research should examine what geographic access means when people use different types of transportation, such as buses and subways in cities versus cars in rural areas.

Beyond SUM