WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will announce a series of new public and private sector initiatives Tuesday designed to expand treatment, funding and education to combat the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin abuse problem.
Opioids are a class of narcotic pain medications that include prescription drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and morphine, along with the illegal drug heroin.
From 2000 to 2014, the rate of opioid overdose deaths has increased 200 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in 2014, 61 percent of U.S. drug overdose deaths involved opioids.
The epidemic has led to a similar increase in heroin usage and overdoses since prescription opioids are often a gateway to heroin abuse.
Speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Tuesday, the president will discuss the problem with medical experts, community leaders and people struggling to overcome their addiction.
“They will talk about the challenges we face with prescription drug abuse and heroin use, and they will also talk about the actions we are taking and need to take to prevent more people from developing opioid use disorders and making sure those who want treatment can get it,” said Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House.
During his appearance, Obama will announce plans to require Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to provide mental health and substance abuse services for clients on par with both programs’ medical and surgical benefits.
If the Department of Health and Human Services adopts the proposal, it would improve access to counseling and drug services for more than 23 million people enrolled in Medicaid, the national health plan for low-income Americans, and CHIP, which covers children from working-poor families.
Obama also will announce a new interagency task force, chaired by the Domestic Policy Council, that will be charged with ensuring implementation of the parity protections by Oct. 31.
The president will also announce an HHS plan to double – from 100 to 200 – the number of patients to whom a qualified individual physician can prescribe buprenorphine, a medication that helps curb the addiction to heroin and other opiate-based pain relievers as part of a medication-assisted drug treatment program.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will also provide $11 million for up to 11 states to expand the availability of medication-assisted treatment, which treats addiction through drug and behavioral therapies along with counseling.
More than 60 medical schools also will announce that they’re adding to their graduation requirements courses to improve physician education about prescriptions.
The move follows the recent release of new CDC guidelines that call for doctors to try less addictive painkillers, like aspirin and ibuprofen, before prescribing opioids to patients. The CDC guidelines are not mandatory, but they recommend that opioids be prescribed mainly for short-term pain episodes of three to seven days.
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