On September 27, the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis held its third official meeting to discuss efforts to address the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic. The meeting convened officials from government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry and focused on limiting doctors’ use of opioid prescriptions and identifying non-addictive pain management treatment alternatives. Researchers who attended the commission meeting emphasized that although effective treatments for opioid addiction exist, they are not being adequately utilized.
The commission, which has met twice before and in July issued an interim report of short-term policy solutions, urged the Trump administration to declare a national state of emergency over the epidemic. The president pledged to do so, but has not yet made an official announcement. By declaring a state of emergency, federal agencies would be empowered to mobilize and deploy treatment resources through fast-tracked administrative procedures. Several counties have declared public health emergencies in response to the opioid crisis in their jurisdictions.
The data on opioid overdoses and deaths suggests that the epidemic is worsening. Opioid overdoses accounted for 33,000 out of 52,000 drug overdose deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preliminary data for 2016 shows that the number of drug overdose deaths resulting from fentanyl and heroin — synthetic opiates that are 50–100x more potent than prescription versions — more than doubled from 2015. Many people struggling with opioid addiction were introduced to those drugs through a doctor’s prescription, but become addicted to stronger versions of the drug that are sold on the street.
Pharmaceutical industry representatives who attended the commission’s meeting said that companies would support new limits to the number of opioid pills doctors can prescribe, as well as more extensive training on the issue for medical professionals. Over the past year, drug manufacturers have been the target of dozens of lawsuits leveled by state and county governments who claim that companies played an outsized role in the opioid abuse epidemic.
The commission is now preparing to issue a more comprehensive report this November containing longer-term legislative proposals, such as new prescription education requirements for medical school students and changes to federal privacy laws that would make patients’ information available to family members, among others.
Given the urgency of this public health crisis, NACo engaged in a joint effort with the National League of Cities to assess how local agencies respond to the epidemic. In November 2016, the organizations published a joint report, A Prescription for Action, offering recommendations for county and city leaders to reduce rates of opioid misuse, overdose and fatality through local, state and federal action.
Additional NACo resources on this issue: