New Strategies Emerge to Combat Opioid Crisis

Elizabeth Sierminski & Caitlin Grzeskowiak

Addiction susceptibility, pain management, and opioid alternatives research emerged as themes in a program July 13 aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic. Policymakers, public health experts, and advocates discussed these and related topics during Roll Call Live’s event, Fighting the Opioid Crisis, in Washington D.C.

Representative Ann McLane Kuster (NH) cited several studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on addiction research. The study found that using opioids for 30 days after prescription resulted in 35% of users still using opioids a year later, she said. “We don’t have the research for the physician to know of those [patients]...coming in the door, which one is going to be susceptible to the addiction,” she stressed.

Dr. Leana Wen, commissioner of health for the City of Baltimore noted that treatment for opioid addiction has been well-researched and experts know what works. Cynthia Reilly, director of Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Initiative for the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed. FDA-approved medication-assisted treatment in combination with counseling are effective measures for treating the epidemic, she said. “Studies show us that when patients receive these therapies, they are more likely to remain in treatment.”  Dr. Wen also highlighted the economic benefits adding, “The World Health Organization estimates that for every $1 invested into treatment, society saves $12.”

Later in the day, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)’s Committee on Pain Management and Regulatory Strategies to Address Prescription Opioid Abuse, released a report on the current state of pain and opioid research and education, with recommendations for future research, policy, and education initiatives. Committee members hosted a webinar to discuss key points of the report, which was prepared at the request of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The NASEM report echoed that little is known about the characteristics that lead to addiction but federal and state agencies should be doing much more to deploy evidence-based treatment efforts. They suggested removing barriers to coverage for medication-assisted treatment, improving access to naloxone, and allowing unfettered access to sterile syringes by excluding them from drug paraphernalia laws.

NASEM advised that FDA conduct a full review of currently approved opioids and change their review process to incorporate public health considerations. The report suggested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services work with state agencies to leverage prescription drug monitoring programs to track opioid prescribing and dispensing.

The report also stressed the need for a more comprehensive healthcare approach to pain management. Other recommendations encourage the FDA and CDC to develop an evidence-based approach for provider education and support research on the neurobiology of pain and the development of non-opioid, abuse-deterrent, and alternative therapy treatments for pain. Another suggested that public and private insurers develop reimbursement models that support comprehensive care.

Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academies of Medicine and Research!America board member, summarized the ideal opioid response best; stating, “The challenge is to reduce the burden of pain while containing the risk of addiction and other harms that can result from opioid use.”

For more information on opioid addiction, see our fact sheet here.

Elizabeth Sierminski and Caitlin Grzeskowiak are Communication Interns at Research!America.

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