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

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


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.”

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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