Recovery Czar and CDC Director Discuss Federal and State Actions to Address Opioid Epidemic

By John Lavitt 03/23/16

During the press conference, CDC Director Frieden called the opiate epidemic "unprecedented."

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Recovery Czar and CDC Director Discuss Federal and State Actions to Address Opioid Epidemic
Recovery Czar Michael Botticelli Photo viaWhite House

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House held a conference call with reporters to discuss federal and state actions to address the opioid epidemic, led by Michael Botticelli, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The conference highlighted President Obama’s request earlier this year for $1.1 billion in new funding, most of which would go directly to U.S. states with the goal of ensuring that every American has access to treatment.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, substance abuse disorder benefits are comparable to medical and surgical benefits,” ONDCP Director Botticelli said in his remarks. The question is whether there are enough resources available to provide the extent of the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) services required to stem the tide of opioid abuse. 

Given the number of Americans who now have health insurance, shouldn’t MAT be available to them all? A problem in many states, however, is that such services are useless without the trained doctors and addiction treatment specialists needed to provide them.

Since the start of the 21st century, a four-fold increase in prescribing opioids has resulted in a four-fold increase in overdose deaths due to these drugs. In the majority of states, a lack of prescriber training combined with failed prescription drug monitoring programs remain an ongoing problem. CDC Director Frieden assured that, “We are working with the states to optimize their prescription drug monitoring programs.” 

Botticelli discussed the different types of federal initiatives launched to help states address opioid abuse, along with the number of states presently employing these initiatives.

As the list below reveals, the numbers are frightening:

1. Requiring opioid prescribing training

Only 14 states have enacted such educational legislation.

2. Establishing a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP)

Although 49 states have established a PDMP to collect and analyze prescribing and dispensing data from pharmacists and doctors, only 22 work in real time. Only eight states require doctors to consult the PDMP before prescribing opioids.

3. Legalizing syringe services programs (SSP)

At least 33 states have either authorized SSPs, decreased barriers to the distribution of clean needles, or altogether removed syringes from the list of drug paraphernalia. On the other hand, other states have created additional barriers to these services by prohibiting them. 

4. Permitting distribution of naloxone by pharmacists and third party prescriptions of naloxone 

Thirty-nine states now allow prescribers and pharmacists to dispense naloxone to a person who is close to someone at risk.

5. Supporting law enforcement and public health partnerships 

Only 15 states have established a network of public health and law enforcement partnerships through the ONDCP's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

Although progress has been made, so much more needs to be done to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic. When asked if they had a model to predict when this would happen, Frieden admitted, “What is happening is unprecedented. There is no effective model to predict the outcomes.” 

Considering the number of disparate elements involved, Frieden admitted that the challenge is great. This is why the Obama administration has made combatting the opioid epidemic a top priority. In order to accomplish this goal, Congress must approve the funding requested by the administration.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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