The science proves it: Substance use disorders (SUDs) can be effectively treated, and recovery is possible for every single American with an addiction. But all too often, the treatment system fails those in need.

More than 21 million Americans have a substance use disorder. But in the United States, only one in ten people with addiction receives any treatment at all—and even fewer receive treatment that aligns with research-backed medical best practices. This is the biggest reason why so many of our loved ones are dying at such an alarming rate.

In order to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic, the first thing we need to do is to expand and improve addiction treatment. People in need must have access to treatment that is affordable, high-quality, and readily available—no wait times, no hoop-jumping.

To achieve this, there are three key areas where states should focus their policy.

Treatment capacity

We need more health professionals trained to provide addiction care. More doctors able to prescribe life-saving medications. More treatment, whether within an inpatient facility or at a doctor’s office, that is fully aligned with research-backed best practices. We need it all to truly turn the tide of the opioid epidemic.

Here are three concrete steps that states can take to improve treatment capacity:

  1. Train all healthcare professionals in state in addiction care, including the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). 
  2. Use telehealth models to enable care delivery in rural and underserved areas. 
  3. Improve reimbursement rates for evidence-based treatment of SUD. With better reimbursement rates, more health care professionals will be motivated to get involved in treating SUD.

Treatment quality

While some treatment programs offer evidenced-based and clinically effective medical treatment, others employ tactics based on ineffective and outdated methodologies. This kind of treatment can actually do more harm than good.

States can help ensure that all addiction treatment aligns with the proven research and science that improve patient outcomes.

Here are three concrete steps that states can take to improve treatment quality: 

  1. Incentivize evidenced-based treatment in state-funded programs
  2. Require all state-funded Emergency Departments to:
    1. Screen for substance use disorder
    2. Provide appropriate intervention, including medication when needed
    3. Provide a warm hand-off to a treatment professional for further care
  3. Leverage state licensing regimes to require minimum standards of professional credentialing and provision of MAT

Treatment coverage

Too many families go bankrupt sending their loved ones to addiction treatment centers not covered by their insurance plans. Worse still, those expensive treatment facilities often do not offer the sort of evidence-based treatment that’s proven by research to improve patient outcomes. So more treatment is needed. The cycle continues.

There are a number of key policies states can enact to turn this around. Here are four concrete steps states can take to improve treatment coverage:

  1. Cover MAT through Medicaid and remove pre-authorization
  2. Work with commercial insurers to cover MAT without pre-authorization
  3. Maximize Medicaid waivers (1115 and 1915) to expand treatment recovery services
  4. Partner with health insurance payers to develop alternative payment models and modify enrollee benefit design for these services