Combating opioid overdose deaths means tackling the opioid addiction crisis with the lessons learned over the past decade, a panel of experts said at an event last week.
The event, “America’s Opioid Epidemic: Lessons Learned & A Way Forward” focused on prevention and treatment of opioid addiction and featured speakers from policymakers to doctors. Hosted by The Hill and sponsored by pharmaceutical firm Indivior, the event presented experts on how to treat addiction, what barriers stand in the way of treating addiction, and what Congress is doing to combat opioid addiction.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2018, with 47,600 of them involving an opioid. That number represents a nearly 10 percent increase over the number of opioid deaths in 2016.
Congressmen Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) spoke to attendees about a bipartisan approach to combating opioid addiction. The congressmen said the issue was in every district across the country, leading to the bipartisan effort.
Tonko said the solution was a combination of prevention, treatment, and recovery to combat the problem. His legislation, H.R. 2482, the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act, would eliminate the need for a doctor to obtain a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder, he said. Additionally, Tonko said he sponsored H. R. 1329, the Medicaid Reentry Act, which makes incarcerated individuals eligible for Medicaid benefits 30 days prior to their release so they can start addiction treatment and services.
Both bills were considered at a House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting on March 3.
Joyce said he has introduced H.R. 1528, the Comprehensive Opioid Program Extension Act, that would increase funding for an opioid abuse grant program by $70 million per year. The bill would help more first responders carry drugs like naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, as well as expand youth opioid abuse programs. According to Joyce, schools in Ohio are starting to carry Narcan (naloxone) and train their staff on how to administer it in case of an individual overdosing on school property.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said recovering addicts need social support in order to keep them off drugs. Other speakers at the event noted that eliminating barriers to treatment – such as homelessness, lack of insurance coverage, and unemployment – were essential in combating opioid addiction.