The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a series of initiatives aimed at curbing America’s opioid addiction epidemic, steps that would make it easier to get obtain medication-based treatment, expand Medicaid coverage and increase availability of a drug that saves people from overdoses.
The president discussed his proposals while appearing at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
“What we have to recognize is in this global economy of ours that the most important thing we can do is to reduce demand for drugs, and the only way we reduce demand is if we’re providing treatment and thinking about this as public health problem and not just a criminal problem,” Obama said.
Among the proposals include the formation of a task force “to advance access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.” Obama also said that his administration had gotten 60 medical schools to begin requiring students to be trained in prescribing opioids.
And he called for focusing on “medication-assisted treatment” — expanding the use of drugs, such as buprenorphine, that block opioids’ effect on the brain and can help addicts get clean.
A proposed rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services would double the patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine, to 200. The HHS said it was spending another $94 million for community health centers across the country to boost medication-assisted treatment in poor and isolated communities.
The Obama administration is also writing a new rule that would offer more treatment for people enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Voicing his support for the proposals was Sarasota Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan, who is a co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (H.R. 953) and the STOP ABUSE Act (H.R. 3719)
“I’m pleased that the president has weighed in on this crisis, which has affected far too many families in Florida,” Buchanan said in a statement. “I’ve championed a comprehensive approach to combating heroin and opioid addiction – one that attacks the supply of drugs, prevents new victims through better education and helps those already addicted recover and lead productive lives. Many of the administration’s proposals follow the lead of the bills I’m backing, so I am hopeful that Congress and the White House can find common ground.”
The number of heroin overdose deaths in Florida increased nine-fold, from 48 to 447, from 2010-2014, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
“The heroin crisis is hitting my district hard and the Obama administration is right to make anti-drug legislation a priority,” Buchanan said. “I’ll keep pushing Congress to give our communities the resources they need to fight back against this scourge.”