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New Hope For Opioid Crisis as Rare Bipartisan Success on Opioid Bill

photo of prescription opioids, a new opioid bill just passed to address the opioid crisis
Prescription opioids from K-State Research and Extension. (Image via Flickr)

In today’s hyperpartisan atmosphere, the opioid crisis may be the one issue both parties can work together on.

In 2017, opioid overdose deaths totaled more than the number of people killed in the entire Vietnam War — for the second year in a row. Opioid substances include prescription medications, the illicit drug fentanyl and illegal drugs like heroin. Combined, these substances cause more deaths from the opioid crisis than from automobile accidents and suicides.

A new study published this year warns that the opioid epidemic might be even worse than we think. The study by a University of Pittsburgh professor found that tens of thousands of opioid deaths may have gone unreported.

Timeline of opioid deaths resulting from the opioid crisis and opioid epidemic

Timeline of yearly U.S. deaths from all opioid drugs. Included in this number are opioid analgesics, along with heroin and illicit synthetic opioids. (Image via National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Opioid dependence can happen in as little as five days. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 8 to 12 percent of all patients develop an opioid use disorder and that there are 115 opioid overdose deaths every day in the United States.

As Trump Prioritizes Opioid Crisis, Hope For Reducing Opioid Deaths

President Trump has made the opioid crisis a top priority of his administration, and recently declared the week of September 16-23 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. The opioid crisis was a central platform in Trump’s presidential campaign; he has diligently worked with law enforcement across the nation to stop heroin and fentanyl from crossing our borders. President Trump has met with parents whose children experienced fatal overdoses, as well as other victims of the opioid crisis.

President Trump has directed unprecedented funding to the opioid epidemic and has developed other important measures in fighting the opioid crisis. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just awarded more than $1 billion in grants to states and local communities to address drug demand, prevent drug use, treat addiction locally and stop the drug flow into communities across the nation. In total, the latest government funding bill added nearly $4 billion in anti-opioid funding to the budget.

The White House has also created a media campaign called “Know the Truth and Spread the Truth” to teach both parents and young people about the risks of opioids. First responders now have fentanyl safety recommendations to properly respond to calls and treat patients in the field when these potent and dangerous synthetic opioids are encountered on the front lines.

Graphic of the flow of opioids into the US via mail

(Image via U.S. Department of State)

Opioid Epidemic Brings Together Democrats and Republicans For New Opioid Bill

In a rare display of bipartisanship amidst the furor leading up to the November 2018 mid-term elections, the House and the Senate agreed last week to sweeping legislation to address the opioid epidemic. Indeed, it is one of the very few bipartisan bills that has made progress this year.

The House passed the legislation on Friday, September 28 with a vote of 393-8, and the Senate is expected to pass it and send it to President Trump the first week of October. While the Congressional Budget Office has yet to officially cost the new bill, a good estimate is an estimated cost of around $8 billion over five years.

The majority of the bill provides for both law enforcement and public health measures to address the crisis. Here are the highlights:

  • Lawmakers aim to block mail imports from other countries of deadly fentanyl, a powerful synthetic compound that is 100 times stronger than morphine. These drugs greatly increasing overdose deaths. The U.S. Postal Service will require much more rigorous information regarding international mail shipments; without it, packages will be blocked or destroyed.
  • Nurses and other non-physician practitioners can now prescribe anti-addiction medications like suboxone and buprenorphine. These health professionals will have to obtain additional training and a special license.
  • The bill lifts restrictions on Medicaid so that it can be used to treat substance abuse. States have been restricted from spending federal Medicaid dollars on certain types of residential addiction treatment facilities.
  • More institutions are now eligible as inpatient behavioral health and mental disease facilities to help in the treatment.
  • The bill grants more provisions for research and development of new non-addictive painkillers and other methods.
photo of the international mail facility at JFK airport where the FDA inspects packages

Packages for FDA review at JFK International Mail Facility. The FDA has seen an increase of opioids illegally entering the country and is strengthening collaborative efforts with USPS, CBP and DEA to detect these opioids coming in through the mail. (Image via FDA)

Experts say that this bill goes a long way toward turning the tide on the opioid epidemic, but at the same time there are concerns regarding what is not in the bill:

  • Of course, funding was missing; experts say much larger amounts will be needed to truly fight the battle. They are looking for funding in the billions, on the same level that the United States spent to fight the AIDS epidemic.
  • A measure that would have relaxed the requirement for drug manufacturers to provide larger discounts to Medicare patients is missing. Many Medicare patients experience a medication coverage gap called the donut hole. While pharmaceutical companies lobbied hard for the provision, there was fierce opposition from some Congress members and consumer advocate groups.
  • While the bill contains heightened inpatient care provisions, there were no provisions for the expansion of the all-important outpatient programs that focus on longer-term care such as medication-assisted treatment.

Despite the bill’s shortcomings, the bill offers a good start in addressing drug abuse, addiction and overdose. It expands the capabilities of first responders, health-care professionals, law-enforcement officers, educators and members of the community to work together to save lives and safeguard the country.

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Jacqueline Havelka

Jacqueline is a rocket scientist turned writer. She covers health, science and tech news for Citizen Truth. In her first career, she managed experiments & data on the Space Station & Shuttle.

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1 Comment

  1. Theresa Davidson October 10, 2018

    New question since the opioid crisis seems to be a focus now are the pharmaceutical companies trying to take control of what pharmacies they will let fill our prescriptions. If that’s the case someone needs to step up and realize that some people can’t afford prices of the ones like CVS OR Walgreens. We should be able to use whatever pharmacy we choose.

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