Trump’s Health Secretary Says Addiction Meds Are “Substituting One Opioid For Another”

Tom Price apparently hasn’t read his own agency’s guidelines on the topic.

Cheriss May/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


On a listening tour about the opioid epidemic in West Virginia on Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stressed the urgency of tackling the staggering overdose problem, saying “we’re losing people every single day across the nation, so we don’t have time to wait.”

But when it came time to discuss solutions, Price contradicted guidance from his own agency by asserting that medications to treat opioid addiction are “just substituting one opioid for another.” His comments about so-called medication-assisted treatments run counter to years of scientific studies finding that access to the medications, such as buprenorphine or methadone, make drug users more likely to recover.

Here’s Eric Eyre of the Charlotte Gazette-Mail:

Asked about drug treatment options, Price touted faith-based programs while showing less support for medication-assisted programs in which addicts are weaned off heroin with other opioids like Suboxone and methadone.

“If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much,” he said. “Folks need to be cured so they can be productive members of society and realize their dreams.”

The secretary’s comments directly oppose literature from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, a division of HHS. “The goal of medication-assisted treatment is to recover from addiction,” reads “Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Facts for Families and Friends.” The literature goes on: “It does NOT replace one addictive drug with another. It provides a safe, controlled level of medication to overcome the use of a problem opioid.”

The comments left public health advocates concerned that the nation’s top doctor is promoting an old-fashioned attitude—one that sees addiction as simply a hurdle to overcome with abstinence-based programs like 12-Step. “The first line treatment for opioid addiction are medicines like buprenorphine and methadone—abstinence-based approaches don’t work well for most patients with opioid addiction,” says Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who researches opioid policy at Brandeis University and directs the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “Until we do a better job improving access to buprenorphine and methadone, overdose deaths will remain at historically high levels.”

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate