Pennsylvania is the latest state to enact legislation in reaction to the growing impact the opioid epidemic has on infants. Governor Tom Wolf signed H.B. 1232 in June, effectively requiring hospital officials to notify child protective services when children are born affected by the mother’s substance abuse or affected by withdrawal symptoms as a result of prenatal drug exposure.
Such outcomes generally fall within the parameters of neonatal abstinence syndrome (“NAS”), a group of health problems that occur in newborns who were exposed to drugs while in the mother’s womb. This legislation brings Pennsylvania into full compliance with the 2003 Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
Medication Replacement Therapy (MRT), Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT). Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST). Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT). Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT). This confusing array of acronyms are all terms that have made their way into the dictum of patients, healthcare providers, policy leaders, politicians and journalists —and new ones pop up every day.
Buprenorphine Enabled Recovery Pathway (BERP) is one I just came up with but could just as easily make its way into the menagerie of acceptable buzzwords for using an agonist-antagonist (or other drug) for the treatment of substance use disorder.
It doesn’t stop there.
Safe Consumption Facilities (SCF), Safer Injection Facilities (SIF), another SIF in Supervised Injection Facilities, Supervised Injection Sites (SIS), Medically Supervised Injection Sites (MSIS), and Drug Consumption Sites (DCS) only begin to round out the list of areas that people who use intravenous drugs can go to use in a safe, clean and supported environment.
We see these terms bantered about in the media, among healthcare providers, legislators and policy makers. We hear them from patients with SUD, their families as well as advocate organizations. These terms are in published research reports and clinical studies. To even the savviest person though, it is a confusing alphabet soup of acronyms that are all trying to describe an array of programs, possibly something similar or maybe even the same.
Placed next to each other, their recommendations are broadly similar. While they may differ somewhat to the extent that they emphasize criminalization versus medicalization, overall, they tend to coalesce around harm reduction (such as broad naloxone availability and syringe exchanges), upstream opioid reduction strategies (such as prescription limits and prescription drug monitoring programs), and increased public health surveillance based on improved data collection and analysis.
Limiting access to MAT can result in patient harm. Improving access using a bridge therapy model may help save lives.
There were approximately 64,000 deaths from opioid overdose in 2016, including deaths from both prescription and illicit drugs. The incidence of opioid overdose has continued to escalate despite a number of efforts. Increasing treatment beds, limiting opioid prescriptions, distribution of naloxone and other efforts have not demonstrated a significant impact on non-medical opioid use or on opioid-related deaths.
The continuing rise in opioid overdose and overdose death has resulted in the declaration by the current executive administration of the opioid epidemic as a “Public Health Emergency”.
Medication assisted treatment (MAT) with agents such as methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone has been demonstrated to be one of the more effective measures in the reduction in high-risk opioid use among individuals with substance abuse disorder. Specifically, treatment with buprenorphine/naloxone has demonstrated efficacy in harm reduction with the advantage of a reduced potential for abuse, a safer therapeutic profile than alternatives, and it can be safely prescribed in the outpatient setting. Use of this therapeutic however, is currently restricted to only certain licensed providers in certain clinical settings, limiting access to this important life-saving intervention.
Panelists discussed responses to the opioid crisis during a recent webinar.
Dr. Monica Bharel, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Health, recently hosted a webinar panel to discuss the many consequences of the modern opioid epidemic on families.
Hosted jointly by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and The Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the event also included Dr. Stephen Patrick, Dr. Karen Remley, and Dr. Michael Warren who joined Bharel for a talk titled “State Health Leadership: Understanding & Responding to the Lifelong Effects of Opioid Exposure for Infants, Children & Families.”
The discussion offered insight into the complex nature of addiction and the need to understand the disease to craft effective solutions.
Experts believe the overprescribing of opioids is at least somewhat responsible for the current opioid crisis. This led to a national discussion around prescribing stewardship, as well as the development of policy and regulation with regard to opioid prescribing. Included among this have been limits on the duration of therapy, partial fills, and requirements that providers access their state’s prescription monitoring program before prescribing. These policies have had some success and there has been a decline in the number of opioid prescriptions in the last several years.
As a major tool in harm reduction policy connected to opioid and substance misuse, more than 30 states have implemented syringe exchange programs, or SEPs.
Surmounting or, in many cases, bypassing the considerable legal and political obstacles has proved a challenge for states, whether they succeeded in enacting SEPs or not. While, given the opioid crisis, SEPs are more important than ever, they do have limitations.
Privacy, especially as it relates to healthcare and protecting sensitive medical information, is an important issue. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better know as HIPAA, is a legislative action that helps to safeguard personal medical information. This protection is afforded to individuals by the Privacy Rule, which dictates who can access an individual’s medical records, and the Security Rule, which ensures that electronic medical records are protected.
Access to someone’s healthcare records by a medical provider typically requires a direct health care-related relationship with the patient in question. For example, if you have a regular doctor, that doctor can access your medical records. Similarly, if you call your doctor’s office off-hours, the covering doctor, whom may have no prior relationship with you, may similarly access these records. The same holds true if you go to the emergency department or see a specialist. No provider should be accessing protected information however, without a medical need.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has centralized suits in the Northern District of Ohio.
As waves of opioid lawsuits have mounted in the federal courts, one district court was chosen to shepherd all the cases, and one judge is motivated to step up to stem the tide of the epidemic.
In the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Dan A. Polster was chosen by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which centralized hundreds of suits, and created the Opioid MDL.
“The federal court is probably the least likely branch of government to try and tackle [the opioid epidemic], but candidly, the other branches of government, federal and state, have punted,” said Judge Polster during the first hearing of the MDL in January. “My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018.”
And increase in diagnosis of the hepatitis C virus increase goes hand in hand with the opioid epidemic. (Zerbor/Thinkstock)
The opioid epidemic and the toll it is taking is on American lives has resulted in the declaration of a public health emergency by the Trump administration.
There were 42,000 deaths from suspected opioid overdose in 2016, more than in any previous year to date. These deaths illuminate the direct impact of the epidemic, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hepatitis C is another epidemic that goes increasingly hand-in-hand with the opioid crisis, and is likely to take a long-term toll on American lives as well. Intravenous drug use accounts for approximately 80 percent of new cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the United States, and without intervention these numbers could continue to climb. Continue reading →
Naloxone is an opioid-receptor antagonist. In other words, it has the ability to displace an opioid from the receptor site, and essentially reverse its activity to save overdose victims. However, a significant increase in the cost of naloxone has put it out of reach of the people who need it most.
The opioid epidemic has been declared a public health emergency, allowing for access to public health funding, in an effort to raise awareness and deploy public health initiatives. This declaration was in response to the growing numbers of overdoses and overdose deaths in the United States.
I’m an addiction specialist, and my voice-mail inbox is always nearly full. Some messages are from desperate individuals looking for outpatient treatment or help finding a detoxification program. Others are from patients needing a letter confirming their treatment for a child-custody dispute or care providers informing me that my patients have been hospitalized.
It’s hard to know what to expect, but invariably one type of message awaits: voice mails from pharmacies informing me that a patient’s insurance provider will not approve payment for the medication to treat their opioid addiction unless I obtain prior authorization from the insurer. Continue reading →
Drug overdose is a leading cause of death in Americans under 50. Opioids are responsible for most drug-related deaths killing an estimated91 people each day. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In Part II I explore how the Commission dismissed medical interventions used successfully in the U.S. and abroad such as kratom and ibogaine. In this third part of the series, I explain how the Commission ignored increasingly proven harm reduction strategies such as drug checking and safe injection facilities (SIFs).
In its final report released November 1, 2017, the President’s Commission acknowledged that “synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl analogs, are by far the most problematic substances because they are emerging as a leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in the United States.” While speaking before the House Oversight Committee last month, the Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan stated that of the 1180 overdose deaths in his state this year, 850 (72%) were due to synthetic opioids. Street drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl and other synthetics. Dealers add them to heroin, and buyers may not be aware that they are consuming adulterated drugs. As a result, they can be caught off guard by their potency, which contributes to respiratory depression and death. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are responsible for the sharpest rise in opioid-related mortality (see blue line in Fig. 1 below). Continue reading →
There is a lot of interest in civil commitment these days, as a possible tool to fight two big health problems. As we continue to watch the rates of opioid-related deaths climb, and in the wake of an unfunded emergency declaration by President Trump, some policymakers are looking to involuntarily commit overdose survivors for drug treatment. On the gun violence side, experts like Jeffrey Swanson have argued for applying gun-access restrictions that now cover people subject to long-term civil commitment to those subjected to short-term civil commitment.
With those kinds of ideas in the air, it is important to recognize how little modern data we have on commitment and its effects. In a recent article in the Washington Post discussing commitment for opioid treatment, Michael Stein and Paul Christopher emphasize how little we know. I entirely agree on the need for more research, and offer a couple of things to help.
The first is the Policy Surveillance Program’s LawAtlas dataset that maps civil commitment laws across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If we’re going to examine these laws and their impact, this is the place to start. We also put out the call to anyone interested in studying this to work with us not only to update this data through 2017, but also to make sure we’re mining these laws and their characteristics for the right information in these circumstances — Are we asking the right questions? Continue reading →
Last year more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is “now the leading cause of death” in people under 50. Opioids kill an estimated 91 Americans each day and are responsible for most drug-related deaths in the US. This public health crisis requires solutions that are supported by science and reason instead of emotion and political ideology. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In this second part of the series, I explore how the Opioid Commission ignored medical interventions that are used successfully in the U.S. and abroad. In Part III, I will discuss non-medical interventions such as drug checking and safe injection sites. The Commission’s failure to consider these options is likely driven by emotions such as fear and disgust rather than a careful review of scientific evidence.
Medical marijuana is currently accepted in 29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is also permitted in at least 10 countries. However, the Opioid Commission outright rejected calls to consider the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for managing pain. Prior to the Commission’s first meeting, it solicited input from industry and members of the public on how to address the opioid crisis. In response, it received over 8,000 public comments. According to VICE News, which obtained the documents by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, most comments were submitted by individuals urging the Commission to “consider medical marijuana as a solution to the opioid epidemic.” A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a body of the Executive Branch that provides administrative support to the Opioid Commission, reports receiving “more than 7,800 public comments relating to marijuana.” Despite these comments, in its final report, the Commission dismissed the notion that marijuana should play a role in treating chronic pain and opioid addiction. Its report cited a recent study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, which concluded that marijuana use was associated with an increased risk of opioid abuse. However, this study relied on data that was collected over twelve years ago. One of its authors, Columbia Medical School Professor Mark Olfson, told CNN that if the data were collected today, they could yield different results.
The opioid crisis kills at least 91 Americans each day and has far-reaching social and economic consequences for us all. As lawmakers explore solutions to the problem, they should ensure that new regulations are based on scientific evidence and reason rather than emotion or political ideology. Though emotions should motivate the creation of policies and legislation, solutions to the opioid epidemic should be grounded in empirical observation rather than feelings of anger, fear, or disgust. Legislators must be unafraid to explore bold solutions to the crisis, and some measured risks should be taken. In this three-part series on evidence-backed solutions to the opioid crisis, I discuss proposals under consideration by the Trump Administration including recent recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Though the Commission made some justifiable proposals, it misinterpreted the conclusions of scientific studies and failed to consider evidence-based solutions used in other countries. This first part of the series focuses on the misinterpretation of scientific data.
Last year more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is “now the leading cause of death” in people under 50. Opioids are responsible for most of these deaths. By comparison, the National Safety Council estimates about 40,000 Americans died in auto crashes last year, and the Centers for Disease Control reports that 38,000 people were killed by firearms. Unlike deaths due to cars and firearms, which have remained relatively stable over the past few years, opioid deaths have spiked abruptly. Between 2002 and 2015, U.S. opioid-related deaths nearly tripled (from about 12,000 deaths in 2002 to over 33,000 in 2015). Last year, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl contributed to over 20,000 deaths and accounted for the sharpest increase in opioid fatalities (See blue line in Fig. 1 below). Continue reading →
Research indicates that one of many challenges in addressing the opioid epidemic is getting people who are theoretically eligible for government-funded drug abuse treatment through CHIP or Medicaid to actually make use of those programs when their sickness or circumstances give them a window of opportunity to try to get help. The hassle of actually enrolling in these programs—knowing they are there, filling out the paperwork, having access to available information, and having the patience to navigate the process—is one impediment. The ACA’s sometimes-overlooked “Navigator” program could help. The ACA provision creating the program is broad enough for HHS to use it to award grants to community groups to serve as recovery navigators, enrolling addicts in Medicaid, CHIP, or Exchange coverage for substance abuse treatment.