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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the 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.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

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