Obama Unveils Proposal To Combat Heroin, Rx Opioid Misuse
On Wednesday, President Obama announced a new initiative to combat a national "epidemic" of heroin use and prescription drug misuse, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Hennessey, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/21).
Obama unveiled the plan while speaking in Charleston, W.Va., an area disproportionately affected by increases in heroin use (Muchmore, Modern Healthcare, 10/21).
In its fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, the White House called for $133 million in funding to:
- Curb overprescribing of opioid painkillers;
- Collect more overdose data; and
- Expand access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
However, the proposal has been stalled in budget negotiations.
Under the plan released Wednesday, Obama directed federal agencies to:
- Review their health insurance plans to identify any barriers enrollees might face to accessing medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders; and
- Train their health care providers on how to properly prescribe opioids (Mufson/Zezima, Washington Post, 10/21).
The plan also includes several state, local and private sector efforts, including 40 health care provider groups that have pledged to:
- Double the number of providers who can prescribe naloxone;
- Double the number of physicians who can prescribe buprenorphine, a drug that is used to treat opioid-related substance use disorders, from 30,000 to 60,000 over the next three years;
- Ensure that more than 540,000 health care professionals complete training for opioid prescribing; and
- Raise awareness of the issue, appropriate prescribing practices and what providers can do to help combat opioid use among four million health care providers (White House release, 10/21).
According to The Hill, major broadcast networks and national sports leagues have also pledged to donate media space for public service announcements about the risks of prescription opioid misuse (Sullivan, The Hill, 10/21).
Obama Calls for Increased Focus on Treatment Over Incarceration
According to the Post, the administration's drug policies largely hinge on shifting people with substance use disorders away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment programs (Washington Post, 10/21). Obama also called for investments in prevention and treatment efforts. He said, "We're going to have to build and fund and support more treatment centers."
Obama noted that the U.S. could save billions of dollars if law enforcement officials did not incarcerate certain people with substance use issues. Instead, the saved funds could be invested into treatment programs (Harris, New York Times, 10/21).
Further, Obama said the federal government should "push a little bit more" to ensure health plans include coverage for substance use disorder treatments.
Obama also noted that the nation should work to reduce stigma surrounding substance use disorders. He said, "We can't fight this epidemic without eliminating stigma." He added, "With no other disease do we wait until people are a danger to themselves and others ... This is an illness, and we've got to treat it as such."
Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the announcement highlights Obama's "sense of urgency that we at the federal level can do more to address this issue."
Meanwhile, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who has called for increased action to reduce substance misuse, said he was "incredibly encouraged by" Obama's announcement (Washington Post, 10/21).
Further, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Obama's announcement "encouraging," noting that Republicans have also worked to address the epidemic. He said, "It's always positive to see Republicans and Democrats working together" (The Hill, 10/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.