Opioids: President, federal officials highlight efforts to combat epidemic

ATLANTA—This week, at the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit hosted here, the federal government came under the news spotlight—for the many federal agencies countering the country’s opioid epidemic, and for the many federal statistics cited on the catastrophe’s massive costs to individuals, families and the economy.

Those statistics are staggering. Opioid abuse has been killing 47,000 people each year—about 130 lives lost each day—while sapping $80 billion from the overall American economy, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a unit of the federal National Institutes of Health.

Yet—between the programs started by the last White House and new ones under the present one—political leaders and some experts say they finally see a turnaround coming.

President Trump, for one, is heralding what he identifies as “tremendous progress” in the nation’s fight against the epidemic. He spoke April 24 at the summit.

The meeting is essentially a problem-solving conference of medical, private-sector and governmental leaders held here—one that hosts at least 3,000 stakeholders.

“Today, I am honored to join the thousands of leaders from across the country for the 2019 Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit,” the president said at the event. “Very important—everyone here today is united by the same vital goal: to liberate our fellow Americans from the grip of drug addiction and to end the opioid crisis once and for all.”

The president then highlighted specific resources, recently brought to the fight against the epidemic—from increases in federal funding, to the promise of improved access to help under the federal SUPPORT Act, to growth in faith-based efforts to hit back at the problem.

And, finally, the president—echoed by his head of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington—underscored new prevention and treatment approaches ramping up at that key agency. Help for former servicepersons is an area of special interest to federal employees, nearly a third of whom are veterans.

“Just recently, I signed Veterans Choice—where a veteran can go, and if the wait is going to be days or weeks or months, which it used to be, they go out and see a private doctor—immediate care,” Trump said, praising the agency’s still-controversial outsourcing of some care under the CHOICE Act.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, in an online statement published the same day, buttressed the president’s take—stressing the success of the agency’s cautious protocols in the use of opioids.

“More than 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain, and the overuse and misuse of opioids for pain management in our country is taking too many lives,” Wilkie said on the VA website. “Veterans who have served our nation are particularly challenged by chronic pain. VA has demonstrated success in reducing opioid use, while addressing the challenge of living well with chronic pain.”

The VA has pointed out that in recent years—specifically, the last six years spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations—the agency’s Opioid Safety Initiative has cut VA healthcare opioid prescriptions by over 50 percent. Making the effort to avoid unnecessary long courses of opioids accounted for most of this reduction, the document said.

The agency says it has been employing “complementary pain management strategies,” including acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic medicine, tai chi and bio-feedback, and others, wherever practicable and appropriate.

There are over 18 million veterans in the U.S., with about half of those—more than 9 million—reported as served by the VA and its healthcare offerings. Improvements in VA administration of opioids can—and do—have significant impact in alleviating the epidemic.

Reader comments

Wed, May 1, 2019

Opioid medications have their place in treating certain patient groups who have serious situations that warrant the use and are under very good and observant medical observation and attention. The pharmaceutical companies are there for one purpose to make profit and their shareholders happy. They do not give any concern about the diversion of such medications to the pill pushing quacks, pill mills, distributors how such drugs are promoted and distributed. The pharmaceutical companies are great at making me too drugs (similar ones to others already marketed). They spend so much money on stupid happy feel good television and magazine commercials and have diverted monies away from research and development efforts to develop medications that are safe and effective in eliminating or reducing pain and not related to an opioid substance. Remember the pill pushers and big pharma have executives counting on their million dollar bonuses based on sales of their products.

Tue, Apr 30, 2019

Another thing that would help is if we didn't just keep reacting and overreacting. Many years : tons of opioids handed out ! Boom Boom Boom. Then suddenly now there will be many years : Hey no pain killers for you buddy! Boom Boom Boom! We are a country of extremes.

Mon, Apr 29, 2019 Patrick O’Rourke

Secretary Wilkie’s oversimplified comment of “ living well with chronic pain” reflects a true lack of understanding on the issue, that you can not live well simply because of the chronic pain. People can marginally function but opioids when properly prescribed and used with a monitoring regimen ( urine tests to show you do not use other illegal drugs and have a proper level of the medicine in your system at the time of the test ) provides the most responsible approach to the issue. The real issue is opioid products illegally smuggled into this country and sold by dealers to casual or recreational drug users. Do not penalize the patient, prosecute the pusher!

Mon, Apr 29, 2019

Go after the quack pill pushers that dish out large amounts of opioids to their supposed patients. The distributors and the producers of such medications are also responsible for the addiction and deaths so rampant in this country. The quacks that are involved in such pill pushing operations are as guilty as drug dealers, the only difference is the white coat. Jail them for life in a work camp prison based like New Mexico. Push the pills and get caught, you become a prison laborer for life.

Fri, Apr 26, 2019

Pain meds were overprescribed. And it's good that's under scrutiny now. But a huge part of the problem is that there is also just a flood of heroin and other illegal opioid drugs all over. So cheap. So everywhere. Good that government is helping fight it. Everyone has to get involved.

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