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It’s Time to Act to Reduce Opioid Related Injuries and Deaths

Our intention is clear: to save lives by preventing the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids and heroin use.

We lose too many of our fellow Americans to drug overdoses. In fact, drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States – more than even car crashes – because they have increased five-fold since 1980. 

Especially alarming is the high rate of prescription drug overdose and the rising rate of overdoses due to heroin use. In 2012 alone, 259 million opioid prescriptions were written -- enough for every American adult to have a bottle.

Rural America, including my home state of West Virginia, knows this issue all too well. Opioid injuries and overdoses are very real and affect many families. The situation is urgent – but there is reason for optimism: there are targeted actions we can take to save lives and turn these trends around. But we need all stakeholders at the table.  Therefore, I am asking federal, state and local government officials, doctors, treatment providers, drug companies, individuals and family members to work together to address this nationwide crisis.

Fortunately, many are already doing so – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike – because they recognize our common interest in defeating this epidemic.

At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we’re working to develop the most effective solutions to reverse this trend.  We’ve used the best evidence to determine where to focus our attention and turn the tide against opioid drug-related overdose and dependence.

Our efforts focus on three promising areas: informing opioid prescribing practices, increasing the use of naloxone - a drug that reverses symptoms of a drug overdose, and using medication-assisted treatment to slowly move people out of opioid addiction.  At the same time, it is critical to balance combatting opioid misuse with supporting health care professionals in providing appropriate pain management.

States, health care providers, and pharmacists are key partners for safe prescribing and dispensing of prescription opioids. That’s why we plan to focus on increasing investments in state-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), developing guidelines for opioid prescribing, and training providers. PDMPs are electronic prescription tracking systems run by states. PDMPs such as those in Kentucky and New York are showing great potential for identifying people at high risk for dependence, addiction and overdose and changing prescribing behaviors. 

Given the unique role of naloxone as an opioid overdose reversal treatment, getting it into the hands of more first responders is a top priority. Our efforts will continue to support the development and distribution of this life-saving drug.  We are also expanding the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance abuse disorders - and is a comprehensive way to effectively reduce opioid dependence and overdose. 

Our intention is clear: to save lives by preventing the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids and heroin use.

Our efforts are not “one size fits all,” nor do they encompass every activity happening in this space. Our focus is on the activities and interventions with the strongest evidence base and the greatest potential for impact. We will work together with equally committed partners and use the tools available to us to combat this crisis.

We share common interests and therefore have an opportunity to work together in common cause.  Whether we happen to work at state, local, or federal level – and regardless of whether we are in the private or public sector -- this is an issue that knows no geographic or ideological boundaries.  We all have a stake in saving more lives and we all have a role to play in building safer, stronger, and healthier communities. 

For more information, click here.

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