Bipartisan Effort to Address Opioid Epidemic Crippled by Lack of FundingThe Department of Health and Human Services, in response to the ongoing opioid epidemic that is plaguing the country, developed an initiative last year to address the epidemic and save lives. To accomplish this, the agency targeted three key areas:

  • Improving prescribing practices,
  • Expanding access to and use of medication-assisted treatment, and
  • Expanding the use of naloxone to prevent overdose deaths.

It’s serious when politicians agree

In acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issue, the US Senate put aside their differences recently and passed a bill known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 92-2 on July 13. The legislation primarily addresses one of the three priority areas defined by HHS by changing how healthcare providers are allowed to prescribe buprenorphine. The drug, sold under the brand name Suboxone, blunts cravings, eases withdrawal symptoms, and most importantly, acts on receptors in the brain to prevent a drug abuser from experiencing a “high.”

Previously, only doctors could be certified to prescribe the life-saving drug, and even the number of patients they could prescribe to was capped at 100 per year. The lack of access to the drug had some seeking treatment hundreds of miles from home, while others turned to more accessible (and more dangerous) street drugs to control withdrawal symptoms. Now, doctors will be able to prescribe to as many as 275 patients, and nurse practitioners and physician assistants can get certified to prescribe buprenorphine as well.

President Obama, who called on lawmakers to address the crisis, is expected to sign the bill into law, but the White House press office expressed disappointment that no provision for funding was included in the legislation. The HHS Opioid Initiative requires slightly over a billion dollars to implement the changes necessary to turn the tide; with no funding allocated, this legislation is only a small step in the right direction.

We need to fund this initiative

The Huffington Post published an excerpt of an email from Dr. Kelly Clark, president-elect of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. She said, “’Allowing advanced practice providers to prescribe buprenorphine will increase access, but we need this to be an ongoing ability rather than a 5 year trial program. The HHS increase in the physician cap to 275 will increase access as well, but these measures will not close the treatment gap. Major strides have been taken but the journey is not yet over.’”

The opioid epidemic will require massive effort to overcome. While this legislation represents a shift in attitude, more action is required to turn the tide. According to the HHS, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed every day in this country. Those prescriptions, for serious or chronic pain, are turning our friends and loved ones into addicts at an unprecedented rate. Access to treatment will improve thanks to the efforts of our lawmakers, but we still have a long way to go to.

If your loved one has been prescribed opiates and became addicted, you may be entitled to compensation for treatment, medical expenses and rehabilitation. The experienced Tennessee dangerous drug attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm can evaluate your case and fight to get you the help and compensation you need. Call 615.246.5549, visit our offices in Nashville, Gallatin, or Knoxville, or contact us today for a free consultation.