HHS hoping to reduce opioid addiction with new initiative

HHS’ newest goal is to reduce opioid addictions in hopes of combating the rising number of deaths from prescription opioid and heroin overdoses. Secretary Burwell requested bipartisan collaboration as well as input from other stakeholders to find solutions to the problem. HHS identified three priority areas that will allow the initiative to narrow its focus and produce effective results where they are most needed.

Helping professionals

The first step in the initiative is to reduce the number of prescriptions for opioids. This involves providing additional training and resources to health care professionals to help them decide when opioids are necessary for their patients. Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) will have a larger role in tracking prescribing and professionals will have additional access to PDMP data.

Addiction treatment

The remaining two focuses of the initiative involve saving more lives, preventing overdoses, and promoting more effective addiction treatment. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that counteracts the effects of having too many opioids in the body. The drug is used in emergency situations. HHS is committed to finding new ways to produce and deliver naloxone, as well as promoting its use by training more first responders and making the drug more widely available.

Long-term addiction treatment efforts will also be strengthened. HHS will launch a grant program to allow more access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which focuses on using buprenorphine. This prescription drug is an opioid, but has less intense effects than heroin or other opioids, and suppresses withdrawal symptoms.

Other efforts

This initiative announcement comes on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) creation of the Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention for States program. This program will provide funding to about 16 states for prevention implementation. The HHS 2016 budget includes an expansion of this program to all states. The FDA plans to continue to review non-opioid pain medications by an expedited review process, and supports the development of opioid products that are more difficult to abuse. Additionally, the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget includes $133 million in funding to invest in efforts to reduce opioid abuse.