How the Trump Administration Is Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
This op-ed originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer on April 27, 2017.
One of the most exciting lines of work we get to support at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the development of new drugs to combat deadly diseases. America’s scientists are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible, solving or ameliorating conditions we once thought incurable.
So it is both heartening and heartbreaking that one of our top priorities in that work is now fighting a disease that is largely of our own making: opioid addiction.
Opioid addiction is so deadly, so virulent, that we need the very best, most advanced treatments possible to confront it. Sometimes that means new drugs that can help people on their path to recovery, often derived from research performed at the National Institutes of Health or supported by federal grants across the country. Sometimes that means easier access to existing drugs that treat addiction. On Wednesday, to begin a national listening tour about the opioid crisis, I visited the Alkermes manufacturing plant in Wilmington, where they produce one such drug.
Most Ohioans need no reminder of how devastating this epidemic is, and how important it is to have an aggressive response. Consider that Clinton County, home to the Alkermes plant, lost 48 men over the course of four years in World War II. It has lost 71 residents to overdoses since 2010. Nationally, we’re losing as many Americans to overdoses every year as we did in the entire Vietnam War.
States have done an admirable job responding to this crisis. Ohio has taken the lead on monitoring opioid prescriptions and overdoses and improving access to overdose-reversing drugs, through a program called Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone). Kentucky has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, too, and they have also responded with groundbreaking public health programs. Local governments and civil-society groups – everything from sheriffs’ departments to faith-based recovery houses – are fighting hard against this crisis as well.
It is crucial for the federal government to support this local work. The Trump administration is committed to bringing everything we have to this fight.
In just the first 100 days of this administration, we have taken several major steps to combat the epidemic. First, in March, President Trump announced his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which will assess what the federal government is doing to fight the crisis, what is working, and what we can be doing better.
Then, last week, the administration announced $485 million worth of grants to states and territories for the express purpose of supporting access to addiction treatment, with $26 million of that headed to Ohio. Next year, the administration will distribute a second round of funding. Traveling the country to places like Ohio will help inform both next year’s grant decisions and the findings of the president’s commission.
Last week, HHS also announced a comprehensive five-point strategy for combating the opioid epidemic. One of our priorities is cutting-edge research, supported by the National Institutes of Health and especially the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to unlock new knowledge about addiction and develop new treatments. Second, we have to expand access to treatment and recovery services. Sometimes that means grants like the ones announced last week from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, but it also means empowering doctors to get patients the treatments they need without undue government burdens. Third, we need better public health surveillance and data-gathering, because we cannot beat an epidemic we do not understand. Grants and technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already helped Kentucky and Ohio improve their understanding of the scourge within their borders. Fourth, we need to support the lifesaving work states have done to provide access to overdose-reversing drugs.
Fifth, and closest to my heart as a physician, is figuring out the right way to treat pain for the millions of Americans who suffer from it. Our country consumes a vastly disproportionate share of the world’s opioid painkillers. Far too many opioids have been prescribed without an adequate understanding of whether they are effective and how addictive they can be.
HHS is committed to reviewing all of the important work the department does – in payments for programs like Medicare and Medicaid, prescribing guidelines we issue, and more – to ensure that we are treating pain in ways that work. Scientists and pharmaceutical researchers are also contributing to this effort, by coming up with new ways to treat pain without risking addiction.
The scourge of addiction across our land is a health crisis and the Trump administration is committed to treating it. Every Ohioan – from the researcher in Columbus to the pastor in Cleveland – and every American has a part to play. This administration stands ready to support them.