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    Top 4 ways US is combating opioid epidemic

    Expanding access to buprenorphine, a medication to treat opioid use disorder, is one of several new actions announced by Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the opioid epidemic.

     “The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States. More Americans now die from drug overdoses than car crashes, and these overdoses have hit families from every walk of life and across our entire nation,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “At HHS, we are helping to lead the nationwide effort to address the opioid epidemic by taking a targeted approach focused on prevention, treatment, and intervention. However, if we truly want to turn the tide on this epidemic, Congress should approve the President’s $1.1 billion budget request for this work.”

    Related: FDA requires warning on opioids

    Here are the top 4 new provisions from HHS:

    1. The buprenorphine final rule allows practitioners who have had a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for up to 100 patients for a year or more, to now obtain a waiver to treat up to 275 patients. “Practitioners are eligible to obtain the waiver if they have additional credentialing in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry from a specialty medical board and/or professional society, or practice in a qualified setting as described in the rule,” HHS said in a statement.

    2. Many clinicians report feeling pressure to overprescribe opioids because scores on the HCAHPS survey pain management questions are tied to Medicare payments to hospitals, according to HHS. “But those payments currently have a very limited connection to the pain management questions on the HCAHPS survey. In order to mitigate even the perception that there is financial pressure to overprescribe opioids, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing to remove the HCAHPS survey pain management questions from the hospital payment scoring calculation.” This means that hospitals would continue to use the questions to survey patients about their in-patient pain management experience, but these questions would not affect the level of payment hospitals receive.

    Related: How FDA aims to support generic opioids

    3. While many Indian Health Service (IHS) clinicians already utilize PDMP databases, IHS will now require its opioid prescribers and pharmacists to check their state PDMP database prior to prescribing or dispensing any opioid for more than seven days. The new policy is effective immediately for more than 1,200 IHS clinicians working in IHS federally-operated facilities who are authorized to prescribe opioids. IHS also announced that it would train hundreds of Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement officers on how to use naloxone, and provide them with the life-saving, opioid overdose-reversing drug.

    4. HHS will launch more than a dozen new scientific studies on opioid misuse and pain treatment to help fill knowledge gaps and “further improve our ability to fight this epidemic”. As part of this announcement, the department released a report and inventory on the opioid misuse and pain treatment research being conducted or funded by its agencies in order to provide policy-makers, researchers, and other stakeholders with the full scope of HHS activities in this area. 

    Read more: FDA makes sweeping changes for opioids

    Christine Blank
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.

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