Trump Announces Strategy to Combat Opioid Epidemic

By: Mario Ramirez, MD

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Date: 04/03/2018

Filed Under: Opioid Epidemic, regulations

This afternoon in New Hampshire, a state hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, President Trump announced a three part strategy to combat the worsening crisis.  Opinions about the approach have been mixed with some calling it a return to "a comprehensive drug policy," while others are concerned that a heavy focus on punitive measures will limit efficacy.  Here's our summary:

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1. Reduce prescriptions and over-prescribing

The plan calls for the reduction of opioid prescriptions by 33% over the next three years.  While this is indeed a sizable reduction, it is worth noting that significant gains have already been made in this area.  Data from the CDC shows that from 2012 to 2016, there was an approximate 15% reduction in national opioid prescribing rates.  To accelerate the decrease, we expect to see an increased focus on regulatory adherence and oversight of physician prescribing practices--it will be critical that providers have effective prescribing protocols in place to adhere to these regulations. Additionally, the plan includes incentivizing states to move to a nationwide prescription monitoring database, an issue we've previously covered.

2. Expand law enforcement

The President made news earlier this week when news outlets reported that he was calling for increased use of the death penalty for drug dealers.  His announcement today suggested that he was not introducing new statutes, but rather supporting use of existing "kingpin" statutes that allow for capital punishment. In addition, the President voiced support for the new Department of Justice Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force that is focused on opioid manufacturers.  The plan also calls for a more proactive screening of mail shipments in an effort to limit the supply of illicit drugs entering the country.   

3. Fund and expand access to treatment

The President called for a modest allocation of $6 billion dollars to fund addiction treatment. The money will go to increased naloxone supply for first responders, expanding the use of medication assisted treatment, and improving access to opioid addiction programs in the criminal justice system.  President Trump also highlighted a nationwide public awareness campaign that's drawn comparisons to previous anti-tobacco ad campaigns

Our Takeaway

The opioid epidemic has been steadily worsening over the past decade.  There is no single approach that is likely to stem the crisis.  It's clear, however, that a strategy along multiple fronts will be required to address the supply and demand problems that are fueling the worsening epidemic. 

Broadly, this plan offers some promising direction, although the focus on the raw number of prescriptions may be overly simplistic and lead to unintended consequences. It's our belief that while opioids can be an appropriate tool to control pain, they must be prescribed responsibly and risks must be judiciously assessed. At AffirmHealth, it's our mission to build tools to help clinicians comply with these responsible prescribing principles and guidelines.

For more, check out our recent posts on related topics:

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