The opioid epidemic has touched nearly every life across the United States. According to the CDC, over 630,000 people died from drug overdoses from 1999 to 2016. Nearly 2/3 of overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid, and every day an average of 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose. There were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, and the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with nearly 30,000 overdose deaths.

On Wednesday, October 24th, President Trump signed bipartisan legislation which will continue efforts by the federal government to fight the opioid epidemic. The legislation improves access to treatment services by lifting certain restrictions on Medicaid and Medicare coverage, as well as backing the creation of comprehensive opioid recovery centers. It also expands access to medication-assisted treatments similar to methadone and reauthorizes funding for the 21st Century Cures Act. The Senate passed the sweeping opioids package 98–1, while the House overwhelmingly passed its version of the bill 393–8 in late September.

In support of the legislation, approximately 20 organizations will enter into public-private partnerships with the White House, including Amazon, Blue Cross Blue Shield, CVS Health, Dispose RX, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, Red Cross, and Walmart. Health insurer Cigna will establish a new program for veterans, while Adapt Pharma will donate doses of NARCAN® (naloxone), the overdose-revival drug, to every public library and YMCA in the US.

The current administration has addressed the opioid epidemic by authorizing billions of dollars in targeted funds. Earlier this year, the federal government also initiated an anti-opioids advertising campaign using PSAs to graphically demonstrate the effect of addiction on young people’s lives. However, some public health experts believe the ads are not an effective way to enact meaningful change, instead highlighting the need to provide more funding to treatment programs—a concern addressed by the new legislation. Whether the funding is sufficient is still up for debate.

From a healthcare professional’s perspective, the opioid epidemic is a critical concern. There are many innovative programs and efforts underway to help prevent opioid overdoses. For example, healthcare providers spend time educating the community and the youth about the dangers of opioid drug abuse to prevent misuse of the drugs. Healthcare professionals also get involved by holding first responder trainings. During these trainings, healthcare professionals teach trainees the signs of an opioid overdose and how to react, including the administration of NARCAN® (naloxone). NARCAN® is a convenient pocket-sized nasal spray that can be purchased in most pharmacies and used to save a person’s life during the event of an overdose. The new legislation will facilitate these efforts. It will also help to place limits on opioid prescriptions, create safe disposal systems for unneeded or unused opioids, and change the packaging of certain opioids to blister packs with limited quantities of the drug. Doctors and pharmacists will also have improved access to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to keep track of a patient’s prescription history with opioids.

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, and opioid overdose deaths in the United States are still increasing in number. However, the rate of growth of opioid overdose deaths is declining, signaling an encouraging trend. With the new law on the books, stakeholders from the federal government, to pharma, to healthcare providers will be better equipped to keep this trend moving in the right direction.

AXON has been involved in raising awareness of this insidious epidemic and we have been working toward a solution since 2016. For more information about AXON’s pro-bono awareness and educational efforts dedicated to this crisis, please review this post from our US healthcare practice lead, Managing Partner Mario Nacinovich.

PDF demonstrating trends in opioid-associated deaths for download

Sources:

  1. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2017. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.
  2. Overdose Death Rates from WONDER. Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2017. Available at https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates.
  3. Drash, Wayne. “Trump claims on opioid crisis met with mix of skepticism and hope by experts as deaths plateau”. CNN, 24 Oct. 2018. Available at https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/24/health/experts-react-to-trump-opioid-legislation/index.html
  4. Vazquez, Maegan. “Trump signs opioids law at White House event”. CNN, 24 Oct., 2018. Available at https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/24/politics/donald-trump-opioid-crisis-one-year-later-event/index.html
  5. Baker, Sam and Swan, Jonathan. “The White House’s next steps on opioids”. Axios, 21 Oct. 2018. Available at  https://www.axios.com/white-house-opioid-plan-kellyanne-conway-f66285a3-df01-41c8-b450-67c43a945c2d.html
  6. S. 2680, The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 Bill Summary, Available at https://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/S.2680%20Summary.pdf