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In 2018, opioid overdoses in the United States caused one death every 11 minutes, resulting in nearly 47,000 fatalities.1 The most effective treatments for opioid use disorder (OUD) are three medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.2 Using one of these can reduce a person’s risk of illicit opioid use and fatal overdoses,3 which underscores the need to increase access to medications for people with OUD.4 While many people with OUD may also benefit from counseling, medications are proved to be beneficial even without such counseling services. Unfortunately, medications often are not available due to a lack of providers who can deliver these therapies, inadequate funding and reimbursement for treatment programs, and the stigma surrounding OUD that can keep people from accessing medications.5 It is therefore critical for patients, providers, and policymakers to understand the efficacy of these medications in order to ensure that people with OUD have access to this evidence-based treatment.
OUD is a chronic medical condition caused by the recurrent use of opioids, including prescription drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, and illicit substances such as heroin or fentanyl. OUD includes dysfunction of the brain’s reward system, motivation, memory, and related circuitry and is manifested by individuals “pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors,” according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. As with other chronic, relapsing conditions, the clinical course of OUD often includes periods of exacerbation and remission that may continue throughout a person’s lifetime.6