An estimated 2.1 million Americans are addicted to opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.1 Opioids can be legal prescription medications or illegal street drugs that act on the opioid (pain-relieving) receptors in the brain. Examples of opioids include oxycodone, morphine, and heroin.
Americans are the biggest worldwide consumers of opioid pain medications. Almost 100 percent of the world’s hydrocodone (Vicodin) prescriptions are written in the United States. The United States is also responsible for 81 percent of oxycodone (Percocet) prescriptions.
While some people truly need these pain prescriptions, dependency can develop from prolonged use and others are abusing the medications to get high. Unfortunately, this abuse is having deadly effects on people.
Primary Federal Government Efforts
In 2015, President Obama issued a memorandum to federal departments and agencies related to the opioid epidemic.2 The memorandum highlights the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce American’s dependence on the drugs. Examples of these efforts include:
- Educational efforts for 540,000 healthcare providers from 2015 to 2017, covering the need for training regarding opioid prescribing and spotting signs of opioid addiction. This education will be geared across a variety of medical professions, including doctors, dentists, advance practice registered nurses, physician’s assistants and physical therapists.
- Directing federal agencies that provide or are involved in health benefits to identify and remove barriers to seeking medication-assisted treatment and/or addiction treatment for opioid abuse.
In February 2016, Obama proposed a $1 billion plan to increase mandatory funding for treatment to help fight the opioid epidemic. The plan included an estimated $920 million to help states fight the epidemic based on the severity of their residents’ opioid addictions. The bill was passed on July 13, 2016, which increased funding for opioid treatment and prevention programs.
States Fight Back Against Opioid Epidemic
Much of the work fighting the opioid epidemic is happening at state and local levels, where governments can target their unique concerns related to opioid abuse. An example of such legislation is the increasing availability of and accessibility to naloxone, which is also known as the “save shot.” Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioids, including when a person’s breathing stops, which buys time for emergency personnel to intervene.
Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow medical professionals to prescribe and/or dispense naloxone to people with an opioid dependence or their families. In 20 states, the drugstores Walgreens and CVS can sell naloxone without a prescription.3
States continue to enact legislation in the fight against opioid addiction. Examples include the creation of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. This is a database that medical providers use to enter names, dates and amounts of opioid medications prescribed. This is a way to crack down on “doctor shopping,” which is when patients go to multiple doctors in an attempt to obtain additional medication prescriptions.
Although many states are enacting legislation and funding the fight against the opioid epidemic, there are still millions of people suffering from addiction in the United States. Through continued efforts, education and support for those experiencing addiction, these numbers will hopefully decrease.