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When it comes to recovery programs, knowledge is power

National Recovery Month takes on extra significance this year. As Americans grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, substance use and related health and well-being challenges are on the rise. In December 2020, 40 states reported rising opioid-related mortality and elevated concerns about substance use disorders (SUDs) more broadly.

Empowerment might not be the first word that comes to mind during National Recovery Month, but it should be. Those with substance use disorders often find empowerment following successful commitment to a recovery program. They feel empowered to make healthier choices – to determine their future.

In an ideal world, patients would feel this sense of empowerment and self-determination every step of the way, starting with the very moment they decide to enter a treatment program. They would find strength through the knowledge that they are choosing the right path toward a brighter future.

Unfortunately, making an informed choice about the best available treatment options isn’t always so easy. Patients seeking support can feel overwhelmed and confused by the glut of online information – and misinformation.

SUDs are chronic illnesses. Many patients attempt recovery or managed use multiple times without long-lasting success, making it all the more difficult to feel empowered. Every attempt is valiant, and while relapses can be discouraging, it’s particularly tragic when patients invest in a treatment with low odds of success, simply because they don’t have the tools to make an informed decision.

There are many evidence-based, effective treatments for SUDs. The challenge is separating those options from the ones that don’t actually work. Research has shown that 30 to 40% of patients in the United States do not receive evidence-based treatment (PDF). Shockingly, some studies indicate that as many as 25% of patients receive treatment that is counter-productive or harmful.

Most of us have experienced the frustration of sifting through contradictory and unreliable information online. Even when we’re looking for guidance to help us make relatively low-stakes decisions, like picking a new restaurant or hair stylist, the work can be tedious and infuriating.

Low-quality information is anything but empowering. Patients seeking effective support for treating SUD shouldn’t have to rely on generalized search engine results that may promote treatments based more on profit than evidence.

Tools that help patients make an informed choice

The good news is there are now resources that can help steer patients and their families to high quality options. One notable example is ATLAS®, available through Shatterproof, a national nonprofit dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in America.

Two years ago, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) provided support to help launch ATLAS for use in North Carolina. Today, the web-based search platform is fully operational. With our continued support, ATLAS now provides North Carolinians with reliable, validated information on SUD treatment options, all for free. With this tool in hand, patients and their families can make more informed treatment choices based on facility locations, standardized quality data and patient-reported feedback.

The ATLAS tool is designed to direct members, providers, referral sources, policymakers and insurers to those treatment facilities that adhere to a standard of quality principles:

  • Access to care needs to be fast and it needs to be personalized.
  • Providers must work with patients to determine which Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications for addiction may be the best choice for treatment.
  • Facilities must provide proven behavioral health therapies and offer care that coordinates treatment for other mental and physical illnesses.
  • Facilities should help address challenges related to housing, employment and personal relationships, because non-medical drivers of health impact treatment success rates.
  • Effective treatment requires long-term management and follow-up.

No simple online search will generate a comprehensive list of facilities that meet these standards of quality, making patient-centered research tools like ATLAS critical. ATLAS promotes the transparency patients need to choose high-quality programs. More than that, it also helps treatment providers identify the best practices that improve health outcomes, and this spurs innovation.

Timing matters

Only one in 10 Americans dealing with SUDs will receive treatment.

The matter is critical. When patients feel the commitment to address their substance use, it’s crucial that they have tools to help them act quickly and decisively on those motivations. In any context, knowledge is empowerment, but it’s especially important at a time when so many patients and their families feel vulnerable.

About Shatterproof

Shatterproof is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the devastation the disease of addiction causes families. Shatterproof is focused on one specific, urgent goal: To transform America’s broken addiction treatment system. The organization is working to ensure every American with a substance use disorder has access to treatment based on proven research. Shatterproof advocates for changes to federal and state policy, payer reform, and provider ratings, and provides public education through family and workplace programs.

authors photo

Nora Dennis, MD MSPH

Nora Dennis, MD MSPH

Lead Medical Director for Behavioral Health

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