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Obama administration announces program to curb prescription drug and heroin addiction and deaths

Heroin Prescription Drugs infographic_presc_heroinBaby boomers have higher rates of addiction than other age groups. The number of adults 50 and older with substance abuse problems is expected to skyrocket by 2020.

So the announcement Wednesday that the Obama administration is launching a program to address prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic is a positive step.

The federal, state, local, and private sector efforts include commitments by more than 40 provider groups – representing doctors, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, and educators – that more than 540,000 health care providers will complete opioid prescriber training in the next two years.

In addition, CBS, ABC, the New York Times, Google, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and other companies will donate millions of dollars in media space for public service announcements about the risks of prescription drug misuse produced by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The president issued a memorandum to federal departments and agencies directing two steps to combat prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic:

  • Prescriber training: To help ensure that health care professionals who prescribe opioids are properly trained in opioid prescribing and to establish the federal government as a model, the memorandum requires federal departments and agencies to provide training on the prescribing of these medications to federal health care professionals who prescribe controlled substances as part of their federal responsibilities.
  • Improving access to treatment: To improve access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use, the memorandum directs federal departments and agencies that provide or provide for access to health benefits, to conduct a review to identify barriers to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders and develop action plans to address these barriers.

“Prescription drug abuse and heroin use have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families, while straining law enforcement and treatment programs," the White House said in a statement.

“More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes and the majority of those overdoses involve prescription medications,” the White House said. “Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications in 2012 – enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.”

Opioids are a class of prescription pain medications that includes hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone. Heroin belongs to the same class of drugs, and four in five heroin users started out by misusing prescription opioid pain medications.

The White House said the most recent data show that the overdose rate for prescription pain medication is leveling off, although it remains at an unacceptably high level. However, heroin-related overdoses – which nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013 – are rising dramatically.

Additional federal actions announced Wednesday include:

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration will continue its National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day program events in the spring and fall of 2016.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will undertake a review of how pain management is evaluated by patient satisfaction surveys used by hospitals and other health care providers, including review of how the questions these surveys use to assess pain management may relate to pain management practices and opioid prescribing.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invest $8.5 million on the development of tools and resources to help inform prescribers about appropriate opioid prescribing; track data on prescribing trends; research, develop, and evaluate clinical quality improvement measures and programs on opioid prescribing; and improve public understanding of the risks and benefits of opioid use.
  • HHS also launched as a one-stop federal resource with tools and information for families, health care providers, law enforcement, and other stakeholders on prescription drug abuse and heroin use prevention, treatment, and response.
  • U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is developing an education campaign for doctors, dentists, and other health care professionals who prescribe opioid pain medications.
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will release an information bulletin to states by the end of the year on steps states can take through their Medicaid preferred drug lists and other utilization management mechanisms to reduce the risk of overdose. 
  • This fall, CMS is testing three new Medicare prescription drug plan measures designed to identify potential opioid overutilization, with the goal of proposing publicly reportable measures for Part D drug plans next year. 
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs will lead a research initiative to evaluate non-opioid alternative approaches to pain management. The Department of Defense and VA are developing a standardized pain management curriculum for use in education and training programs.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service will provide BIA police officers and investigators the overdose reversal drug naloxone and training on its use. 
  • The White House will host a Champions of Change event this spring to highlight individuals in communities across the country who are leading the fight to respond to prescription drug abuse and heroin use.

See this fact sheet on what action state, local, and the private sector will take under the program.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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Laura Troyani

Great post, and perhaps a good implicit reminder for boomers to be really careful about which Medicare Part B plans they use if they need specialized care, and which Medicare Part D plans they choose to make sure they have access to necessary medications. It's a shame that boomers suffer from these conditions, but with a little research they can really take advantage of resources out there to help kick these problems.

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