Trump Administration Making Progress in Fight Against Opioid Epidemic
This op-ed originally appeared in USA Today on September 19, 2018.
The scale of America’s opioid crisis can be daunting. The latest numbers show that more than 72,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, most of them involving opioids. The tragic statistics are a reminder of why President Trump has made combating the opioid crisis a top priority for his presidency.
But everywhere the crisis has struck, there are signs of hope and resilience. Earlier this year, I visited a clinic in Dayton, Ohio — one of the hardest hit communities in the country — that treats new mothers struggling with addiction and their infants born physically dependent on opioids.
We met a young mother who was just a few months into recovery from opioid addiction. One day, late in her pregnancy, she got in a car crash on her way to buy drugs from a dealer. The crash sent her to the hospital, where her baby was born — alive, but dependent on opioids. If she had not gone to the hospital that day, doctors said, her baby probably would not have lived. Today, she is working and able to share her story of recovery.
We are taking new steps to fight the epidemic
Each life saved from addiction is an important victory. And while the epidemic still rages, we are now seeing signs of national progress.
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its annual survey of Americans’ drug use and mental health. For the second year in a row, the number of Americans misusing legal or illegal opioids dropped. Even more encouraging, the number of Americans initiating heroin use dropped by around half from 2016 to 2017.
These are signs that dedicated efforts from the federal government on down to local governments, faith communities, families, and individuals are working. Since President Trump took office, we have seen a 264 percent increase in the prescribing of naloxone, and a 16 percent increase in the prescribing of one form of addiction treatment.
Now, HHS is taking a number of new, unprecedented steps to empower local communities in their fight. These are part of HHS’s comprehensive strategy for the crisis, which is grounded in the best science and evidence we have.
Thanks to new funding President Trump secured from Congress earlier this year, in just this week, HHS is disbursing more than $1 billion in grants to fight opioid addiction. This includes grants to support all 50 states’ efforts to provide addiction treatment, prevention, and recovery services; grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve data gathering and prevention; and grants to help community health centers in rural areas provide addiction treatment.
'Failure is not an option': A drug-free future
The grants that go to support treatment have new provisions added by the Trump administration to specifically promote the use of medication-assisted treatment, which doctors and scientists consider the gold standard for helping those with opioid addiction. As part of an effort to expand that kind of treatment as widely as possible, HHS also issued a message to healthcare providers across America to promote a little-known way they can prescribe medication-assisted treatment via telemedicine. Prescribing medication-assisted treatment requires a certification that many healthcare providers do not have, but telemedicine allows them to connect patients to other providers who already have the certification.
We are also working to constantly expand our knowledge of addiction. This week, the National Institutes of Health is announcing a multi-million dollar study to test an integrated strategy for reducing overdose deaths in communities highly affected by the opioid crisis, implementing the very best practices we have for treatment and prevention and rigorously assessing the results. NIH also continues work to expand our scientific understanding of pain and addiction, including the heartbreaking challenge I saw firsthand in Ohio, of infants born dependent on opioids.
Earlier this year, I joined President Trump in New Hampshire to announce his administration-wide opioid initiative, which involves both HHS efforts and the important work of federal and local law enforcement. He declared that “failure is not an option, and addiction is not our future.” Every day, the administration is working with people across America toward our shared goal: success in the war on addiction and a drug-free future.
Alex Azar is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Follow him on Twitter: @SecAzar