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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Opioid Epidemic Is a 'National Emergency,' Commission Declares

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, AHC Media

The nation’s opioid epidemic has reached crisis levels worthy of declaring a national emergency, according to a report from the White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was established in March by the Trump administration to study ways to combat and treat the rise in drug abuse and addiction, particularly the opioid crisis. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that 142 people die in the United States every day from drug overdoses, according to the report — more per year than car accidents and gun homicides combined. “This is an epidemic that all Americans face because here is the grim reality: Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world,” the report authors stated. “In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Declaring a national state of emergency under the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act will “empower [the president’s] cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life. It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will,” the report authors wrote.

The commission’s recommendations include the following:

  • Allow states to eliminate the Institutes for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion in Medicaid programs. The IMD exclusion prohibits Medicaid reimbursement for inpatient mental health services, including substance abuse disorders. Every governor has urged the commission to make this recommendation, according to the report, to immediately open up treatment options for people with substance abuse disorder. Granting immediate waivers to IMD will make this possible, the commission wrote.
  • Mandate medical education training for all Drug Enforcement Administration-registered prescribers in responsible opioid prescribing, risks of substance abuse disorder, and “proper” pain treatment. Four out of five new heroin users began after abusing prescription opioids – “in other words … this crisis began in our nation’s healthcare system,” according to the report. “We believe the overwhelming percentage is due to a lack of education on these issues in our nation’s medical and dental schools and a dearth of continuing medical education for practicing clinicians.”
  • Establish and fund federal incentives for greater access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options, and work with the National Institutes of Health to develop new forms of MAT.
  • Mandate that every law enforcement officer in the United States carry the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Declaring a national emergency will allow Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to negotiate reduced pricing for government agencies. This would enhance broadened access to naloxone already established in 47 states. The commission also recommends broadening “good Samaritan” laws to shield bystanders from prosecution when reporting an overdose, and “model legislation should include a requirement that naloxone is prescribed in combination with any CDC-defined high-risk opioid being prescribed.”
  • Provide funding and tech support to enhance interstate data-sharing through states’ prescription drug monitoring programs.

The interim report implores President Trump to take immediate action and declare a national emergency. The commission’s final report will include more recommendations in detail.