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New research supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) finds that patients suffering from substance use disorder (SUD) experience more success in primary care settings.

The study demonstrates that regular medical care, when combined with substance abuse treatment; is a successful way to care for individuals with opioid or alcohol addiction. This means that treatment options such as partial hospitalization program (PHP) or Intensive outpatient program (IOP), should be combined with regular medical care in order to provide valuable solutions for people in need of care.

As a brief reminder, Medicare defines PHP as furnished by a hospital or facility to patients with treatment including a multidisciplinary team approach to care under the guidance of a physician or psychiatrist for a minimum of 20 hours a week. Whereas an IOP program typical offers group and individual treatment services for 10 to 12 hours a week. With an IOP program, individuals are able to participate in their daily affairs; and then participate in treatment at an appropriate facility.

According to a report published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, patients in a collaborative care model were substantially more likely to report not using opioids or alcohol after six months from beginning treatment. This data provides healthcare professionals with a key indicator of a successful recovery model.

The idea of integrating substance use disorder treatment with primary medical care is a viable solution. This study included 377 individuals with substance use disorders in Southern California at federally qualified health centers. A collaborative care model between primary care providers, therapists and care coordinators was developed in order to deliver a six-session treatment with the goal of reducing the use of alcohol and opioids.

There were additional challenges due to the fact that roughly 50% of the patients were homeless during the time of treatment. Interestingly, 39% of the individuals enrolled in the collaborative care model received some level of substance abuse treatment.

This is in contrast with the more traditional primary care model where only 16.8% received treatment. In a six-month period of time, 32.8% of the patients in the collaborative care model reported that they had stopped using opioids and alcohol during the previous month. In the primary care model, 23.3% of patients received treatment for substance abuse.

According to members of the nonprofit research organization RAND, “this is a way to increase access to evidence-based substance use treatment.” Finding such as this could help to reduce the number of deaths in the United States due to opioid addiction, overdoses and alcohol-related diseases.

However, many health professionals would agree that substance use disorders are still under identified as well as undertreated. This means that treatment options for people suffering from these types of disorders need access to specialty care settings.

Treatment for these disorders are complicated due to the fact that care is limited and a stigma still exists for people seeking drug treatment. Other solutions to this public health problem have been presented, with many of the most successful ones requiring a coordination and collaboration of resources.


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Substance Use Disorder, Primary Care Settings,