"In a study that looked at drive times to opioid treatment programs in urban and rural counties in the five states with the highest rates of opioid-related deaths, researchers found that it could take nearly 50 minutes to get a clinic that could dispense methadone," Linda Carroll reports for Reuters. "Currently methadone can be dispensed only from U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration certified opioid treatment programs, which are in short supply in rural areas."
The study's lead author, Yale University medical school professor Paul Joudrey, proposed allowing some primary care clinics to prescribe methadone, which would expand rural access. Other countries like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom allow this, but U.S. regulators have consistently opposed such a measure because of concerns that too-easy access would encourage methadone overdoses, Carroll reports. "But what is more dangerous, methadone or heroin and fentanyl?" Joudrey said.
The drive time can be a daunting barrier to rural residents with an opioid addiction, since new patients must be present at the clinic six days a week; only patients who have been in treatment for a longer amount of time can qualify for longer-acting medications that wouldn't require them to drive to the clinic every day, Carroll reports.