Expanding Access to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

How Canada changed the game

Woman hugging her depressed friend at home

Substance use disorder, particularly opioid use disorder (OUD), remains a pressing health crisis in the United States. Despite the availability of effective treatments like methadone and buprenorphine, access to these therapies is severely limited due to regulatory and systemic barriers in the US. Drawing insights from an existing article by Dr. Safina Adatia, this piece aims to explore ways to enhance OUD treatment accessibility, especially by learning from Canada's more inclusive approach.

From Dr. Safina Adatia

The current landscape of opioid use disorder treatment in the U.S. is restrictive and riddled with challenges that prevent adequate patient access to life-saving medications. Methadone, a gold-standard treatment, is subject to rigid prescribing regulations, limiting it to opioid treatment programs (OTPs) and specific healthcare providers. While buprenorphine is more accessible, the prevalence of fentanyl in the drug supply makes methadone a more viable option for many patients due to fewer severe side effects.

In contrast, Canada has implemented a more flexible model that allows patients to obtain methadone from various healthcare providers, including primary care physicians and nurse practitioners. Additionally, refills via telehealth services and community pharmacies facilitate easier access. The result? Up to 85% of people with OUD in Vancouver have access to therapy, whereas only about 20% in the U.S. benefit from such treatments. Legislative efforts in the U.S., like the Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act, aim to improve this situation but fall short of making significant changes.

What We Can Conclude

The data and observations provided by Dr. Adatia suggest that the U.S. urgently needs to modernize its approach to OUD treatment. The barriers in place not only prevent effective treatment but also perpetuate the stigma surrounding substance use disorders. By restricting methadone prescriptions to OTPs and limiting the range of healthcare providers who can prescribe it, the system effectively discourages those who are most in need of help. Policies that continue to separate OUD treatment from general healthcare contribute to a fragmented system that fails to address the chronic nature of substance addiction.


While legislative changes are crucial, a shift in the cultural and systemic approach to handling OUD is equally important. Clinicians and advocates must push for a healthcare model where addiction treatment is seen as part of general health care and not segregated. This holistic approach can lead to more resilient and inclusive healthcare systems capable of addressing the complexities of substance use disorders.

In conclusion, exploring and adopting successful strategies from international models can significantly enhance the accessibility and effectiveness of opioid use disorder treatments in the United States. By advocating for policy reform, supporting integrated care, leveraging telehealth, and working toward stigma reduction, healthcare providers can play a vital role in transforming OUD treatment paradigms and ultimately saving lives.

Original Article

From STAT News: "To get basic standard addiction treatment, Americans should move to Canada"
By Safina Adatia on June 27, 2024

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