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Keith Humphreys: Drug-addiction treatment programs for military families are outdated

In an opinion piece titled "The Military's Bad Medicine," Stanford professor Keith Humphreys, PhD, and his co-author Harold Pollack, PhD, take a closer look at the military's handling of drug-addiction treatment. They argue the military's policies are based on outdated views, writing:

The most effective treatment for opiate addiction - long-term buprenorphine or methadone maintenance - is not covered by the Department of Defense's TRICARE insurance program. The program limits methadone and buprenorphine prescriptions to short-term detoxification, and its regulations state, "Drug maintenance programs when one addictive drug is substituted for another on a maintenance basis (such as methadone substituting for heroin) are not covered." The premise that prescribing opiate substitutes is no different from uncontrolled opiate abuse goes back to the anti-methadone hysteria of the 1970s. Since then, opiate-substitution treatment has become a staple of modern addiction medicine, particularly with the addition of buprenorphine in 2002. Unlike methadone, burenorphine can be prescribed for maintenance by patients' regular primary physicians, outside traditional venues of addiction treatment, which had long posed forbidding barriers for many patients.

...For military families, the military's obduracy means denial of this treatment altogether. The program provides health insurance to almost 10 million military personnel, retirees, and their families and is at the front lines in addressing many physical and mental health challenges among active-duty and retired military personnel -- challenges ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to the aftereffects of battlefield injuries.

They go on to point out that more than 20 percent of soldiers and Marines report they have misused prescription drugs, so modernizing the military's treatment programs is essential - for both the armed services and for society.

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