Hopeful changes are afoot. I’m impressed that President Obama is making the opioid epidemic a priority for his administration. He’s proposing $1.1 in new funding to help addicts get the medical treatment they need—and that would more than double last year’s budget! Most of the new funding would help expand access to medications, such as buprenorphine, for addicts who are experiencing severe withdrawal. Drugs such as this, combined with therapy, have been proven to be very effective. There are not enough doctors who are trained to administer these medications, particularly in rural areas. It’s estimated that 1 million Americans have been unable to get treatment.
According to public health officials, the heroin epidemic is the result of a spike in prescriptions for opioid pain medications starting a decade ago, so the Federal Government has encouraged the private sector to do their part to help reverse the trend. Physicians over-prescribe opioid medications for numerous reasons. They have little time to spend with each patient, want a good review, and a prescription for opioids tends to be a “quick fix” for pain. They prescribe a 30-day supply, which is rarely needed, because insurance companies will limit how many opioid prescriptions can be covered per month, plus patients balk at too many co-pays. But opioids have proven to be more addictive than anyone thought. Too many people who never experimented with drugs are finding themselves reliant upon their prescription medication, and ultimately turning to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get.
This heartbreaking problem requires numerous solutions and it sounds like many of the pharmaceutical chains are also stepping up to the plate. Some are installing safe medication disposal kiosks in their stores, reaching out to schools to offer their pharmacists as drug prevention speakers, distributing naloxone to prevent opioid deaths, and encouraging the use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP—Maryland’s version is known as CRISP.) It will take all these efforts, and more. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/03/29/fact-sheet-obama-administration-announces-additional-actions-address)