People living in the United States must travel significantly farther to access methadone treatment for opioid addiction than Canadians do, research indicates.

As reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the analysis shows that the average driving distance to the closest methadone clinic accepting new patients was more than three times greater in the US than in Canada. When limiting their analysis to clinics that could provide treatment within 48 hours, the difference was even larger: People in the US would have to travel more than five times farther than their neighbors north of the border.

“Our research suggests that the US could benefit from adopting Canada’s more flexible regulatory approach to methadone treatment, which is associated with greater availability of timely treatment, especially in rural areas,” says lead study author Ofer Amram, an assistant professor in Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Amram explains that those seeking methadone treatment in the US must start their treatment and receive their daily dose of methadone at federally approved treatment clinics, which can be few and far between in rural parts of the country. In Canada, methadone is prescribed not only in more widely available treatment clinics but also through trained primary care providers. Once treatment has started, Canadian patients can pick up their daily methadone dose at a local pharmacy.

The research team analyzed data collected from 563 methadone clinics accepting Medicaid or provincial insurance. These clinics were located in 14 US states and three Canadian provinces that had the highest opioid overdose rates within each country. The researchers calculated the driving distance from 17,611 census tracts within those states and provinces to the nearest clinic accepting new patients. After adjusting for differences in population density and demographics, they found that US census tracts were an average of 11.6 miles farther from the closest methadone clinic accepting new patients. For clinics that could take in new patients within 48 hours, the distance gap was even wider at an average of 25.1 miles farther in the US than in Canada.

Read the full article about methadone clinics by Judith Van Dongen at Futurity.