The number of doctors in Montana prescribing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has increased about 650% in just two years, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Back in January, 2017, the state had just over 20 MAT providers — but today, it has more than 130.
MDHHS released those numbers in conjunction with a new report examining opioid prescription practices in Montana between 2012 and 2017. DPHHS worked with the Montana Board of Pharmacy to analyze data from the Montana Prescription Drug Registry (MPDR) to compile the findings.
MAT uses medication, counseling and behavioral therapies to treat alcohol and opioid addiction. The medication used in MAT helps address issues such as substance cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
MAT has been shown to increase treatment retention while also reducing relapse, transmission of infectious diseases, criminal activity and overdose deaths.
Cindy Stergar, CEO of the Montana Primary Care Association, credits the state’s MAT boom to increased attention and funding, she told Montana Public Radio.
“A couple things happened,” Stergar said. “It got a lot of press, people started paying attention and then a lot of federal money started flowing to things like training.”
That training is important because it must be completed in order for providers to prescribe and give out MAT medications.
One example of how federal money helped spark Montana’s MAT boom is through Medicaid expansion.
Medicaid expansion was born out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and allows more low income people to be covered by Medicaid. It covers adults younger than 65 with incomes of up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
Per federal guidelines, Medicaid expansion coverage must include certain mental health and substance use disorder services.
While the expansion is optional for states, Montana began participating back in 2015, with coverage beginning in 2016.
Beyond Montana, the expansion of the program has proven to have similar effects nationwide, according to research published in the Journal of Health Economics in 2018. It showed states that chose to partake in Medicaid expansion saw a noticeable increase in MAT availability and use.