Federal Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic

Written by Melissa Nguyen PharmD'19
Published on October 18, 2017

As discussed previously, America has a long history of opioid abuse. In 2015, 12.5 million people misused prescription opioids, and 33,091 people died from overdosing on opioids. Ninety-one Americans die from an opioid overdose daily. Due to these alarming statistics all over America, it is known as the “Opioid Epidemic.” The Opioid Epidemic has received national attention. To reduce the number of overdoses and deaths, multiple organizations are searching for solutions; this blog will discuss current federal resolutions to the Opioid Epidemic.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has offered its own solutions to the opioid crisis. To prevent opioid abuse, the FDA has written a guide for “Abuse-Deterrent Evaluation and Labeling.”  This included physical/chemical barriers, combining agonists/antagonists, novel delivery systems, molecular entities, and prodrugs. In addition to this, the FDA requested removal of Opana ER (oxycodone ER) due to its high abuse potential. Endo Pharmaceuticals will voluntarily remove Opana ER with a grace period to allow patients to consult a health care professional for pain management. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA Commissioner, intends to reduce the number and length of opioid prescriptions in order to limit abuse.  Endo is not the only pharmaceutical company to collaborate with the FDA. While pharmaceutical companies are willing to create opioid alternatives, they want an accelerated FDA approval process for abuse-deterrent medications. The FDA can assist in resolving the opioid crisis.

FDA is not the only national agency dealing with the Opioid Epidemic. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is focusing on prevention and treatment to solve this crisis by giving certain states between $750K to $1M. This aid will assist states in areas to optimize their prescription monitoring data programs, providing interventions in communities, improve opioid prescribing for insurers and health-systems, evaluate policies to prevent prescription medication overdose, and implement a rapid response for prevention and crises by 2019. The CDC also encourages states to provide substance abuse treatment services such as medication-assisted treatment and reverse overdose with naloxone by training more first responders. The CDC has created its own guidelines to inform healthcare professionals how to use opioids when treating chronic pain. In addition to helping healthcare professionals, the CDC created resources for patients with chronic and acute pain. The CDC hopes to resolve this crisis through providing resources to states, healthcare providers, and patients.

On August 10, 2017, President Trump revealed his intention to declare the Opioid Epidemic a national emergency. By declaring this a national emergency, the Department of Health and Human Services will deliver federal aid under the Public Health Service Act and the Stafford Act. The Federal Emergency Management Agency typically delivers aid for natural disasters. For the Opioid Epidemic, this may include increased access to naloxone and waiving Medicaid restrictions. Despite President Trump’s intentions, the opioid crisis has not officially been declared a national emergency.

In 2016, Congress approved the 21st Century Cures Act to prevent and treat opioid addiction. Through this act, Congress gave states $1 billion for the opioid crisis. The 21st Century Cures Act will deliver aid for only 2 years, and this may not be enough. From 2014-2015, the number of drug overdoses has increased by 11.4% since 1999, and rate of opioid deaths increased by 15.6%.  These statistics demonstrate that more federal assistance is required in addition to the 21st Century Cures Act.

The Opioid Epidemic is a public health crisis, and there is no silver bullet. This issue has unintended consequences such as heroin abuse resulting in 12,989 deaths from an overdose in 2015. Physicians believe in “The Role of Science in Addressing the Opioid Crisis” which agree with the FDA and CDC’s programs that tackle this issue.  Alongside federal agencies, healthcare professionals must rise to the challenge and implement different strategies to address the Opioid Epidemic.

Categories:  Department of Health Policy and Public HealthPublic HealthOpioidsMayes College of Healthcare and Business PolicyDepartment of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare BusinessHealth PolicySubstance Use Disorders Institute