GUEST BLOG AUTHOR: Emily Taylor, Boston College, BA, Class of 2022 (Summer 2021 Health Care Campaigns Intern)
A record 93,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2020 according to new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Nearly 20 million more Americans struggle with substance use disorder (SUD). Despite that prevalence, the stigma attached to addiction often pushes people to find treatment facilities and providers online rather than getting references from friends or family.
Research shows rehab works, but patients usually need access to quality care including regular counseling and access to medication-assisted treatment when necessary. It’s not easy to find unbiased information online about treatment. Often, a search brings up slick promotional materials posted by facilities themselves. Photos of calm, smiling people and promises of supportive, integrative treatment might be appealing. But they don’t promise you’ll get quality, evidence-based care.
Sometimes, families don’t even know what to look for in a quality treatment program. People deserve to choose their health care based on objective information. And they need transparency to make sure they get what they pay for. Currently, some people pay up to $60,000 for a 90 day inpatient treatment program without knowing whether the treatment merits its hefty price tag.
Until recently, it’s been hard to find verified details about treatment and patient care. Shatterproof, a nonprofit addressing the addiction crisis, has issued nationwide standards for evidence-based substance use treatment. In addition to calling for screenings for substance use disorders at all health care visits, they advocate for increased access to effective treatment options. To help people find quality treatment programs for themselves or their loved ones, Shatterproof has developed a tool to assess potential treatment facilities.
The Addiction Treatment Locator, Assessment, and Standards platform (ATLAS) provides people with information on facility care and treatment features, insurance coverage, and quality standards for substance use treatment. ATLAS covers six states — Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia — with plans to expand to additional states.
The tool begins with an assessment you take (for yourself or a loved one) to determine the type of care best suited for the patient, based on the type of addiction, mental and physical health, and ability and willingness to access treatment. Using the assessment, ATLAS filters treatment facilities based on your location and the facility features needed.
ATLAS provides a side-by-side comparison of facilities to give patients insight into how facilities measure up to one another in terms of treatment offered and the quality of care provided. The search tool also provides information on the substances for which facilities provide treatment – for example alcohol, opioids, and barbiturates. Payment information includes what insurance and payment options exist.
Treatment options matter to families. The search tool also provides information on the substances for which facilities provide treatment – for example alcohol, opioids, and barbiturates. Additionally some families are seeking certain types of treatment. For example, evidence supports the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies likely lowers the risk of relapse and decreases the need for inpatient treatment. Since not all facilities offer MAT, ATLAS helps families know what treatment options are available at facilities they’re considering. The database also provides important payment information including what insurance and billing options exist.
Shatterproof identifies six signs of high quality care to assess and compare facilities. Among the quality features highlighted, you can find out whether the facility offers same-day or walk-in appointments.It’s also important to know if a facility’s intake processes include a full assessment to develop a personalized treatment plan for patients. The tool also provides key information on long term treatment and follow up as well as coordinated care and additional support services offered.
Because ATLAS includes patient and family reviews, prospective clients can also read about former patients’ lived experiences with the facility. Patients rate the facility on a scale from 0-10, answer multiple choice questions on their experience, and can leave a narrative response on the facility’s successes and shortcomings. For example, one patient at a facility in the Bronx suggested increasing community events and women’s groups, and another suggested increasing availability for walk-in appointments. Treatment centers also benefit from these reviews as they tweak their programs to reflect useful patient feedback.
Shatterproof’s ATLAS tool advances health care quality transparency and addresses the substance use disorder crisis head-on. Rather than relying on slick ads, more families can now depend on evidence-based assessments provided through ATLAS to find quality care. With increased access to understandable information, patients and their families can find effective, high quality treatment options for substance use disorders.
Since ATLAS data is only available in a handful of states, there’s a long way to go before every affected family can make informed treatment decisions with this tool. With overdose deaths claiming more Americans each year, there is no time to waste. Federal and state health regulators should fill in information gaps, either by supporting broader roll-out of ATLAS, or by performing their own publicly available assessments of SUD treatment facilities in their own states.
IMPORTANT RESOURCE: SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) The helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
Photo Credit: rudamese on pixabay
Senior Director, Health Care Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Patricia directs the health care campaign work for U.S. PIRG and provides support to our state offices for state-based health initiatives. Her prior roles include senior policy advisor at NJ Health Care Quality Institute, associate state director at AARP New Jersey and consumer advocate at NJPIRG. She was appointed to the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee in 2022 and works with patient advocates across the U.S. Patricia enjoys walking along the Potomac River and sharing her love of books with friends and family around the world.