PHARMACY

Obama announces massive push to curb opioid abuse, heroin use

BY David Salazar

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has unveiled a major new push to curtail the effects of prescription drug abuse and heroin use across federal, state and local governments and agencies, as well as in the private sector. The efforts include more than 40 provider groups and more than half a million healthcare providers who will complete prescriber training in the next two years.

To kick off the push, Obama hosted a community forum in Charleston, W.V. — the state that has the country’s highest rate of death from drug overdose — where he discussed the impact that drug abuse has on communities.

“In 2013 alone, overdoses from prescription pain medications killed more than 16,000 Americans,” Obama said in remarks before the forum. ”I don’t have to tell you this is a terrible toll. … This crisis is taking lives — it’s destroying families and shattering communities all across the country. And that’s the thing about substance abuse — it doesn’t discriminate. It touches everybody.”

At the center of the effort are two steps that the president detailed in a memo all federal departments and agencies. The principal undertaking is education. Obama plans to have agencies provide prescriber training among federal health care professionals — a move that addresses concerns raised recently by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which noted that prescribing behavior, which varies widely between states, was one of the biggest contributors to opioid abuse. In addition, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will develop an education campaign for health care professionals, and will issue a report on substance abuse, addiction and health next year.

Alongside the need for prescribers to be properly trained is the need for patients to have access to treatments. As a result, Obama has directed federal agencies and departments to provide, contract to provide, reimburse or facilitate easy access to health benefits and to find barriers to treatment for those with opioid use issues.

“Rather than spending billions of dollars — taxpayer dollars — on long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, we could save money and get better outcomes by getting treatment to those who need it,” Obama said. 

Community pharmacy is at the center of the access and outcomes issue, and pharmacy organizations are joining the president’s push to fight opioid abuse, both in terms of access and education.

In terms of access, CVS Health will allow its CVS/pharmacy locations to provide the opioid overdose treatment naloxone to patients without a prescription in 20 more states next year. It will also launch its Pharmacists Teach prevention program, through which pharmacists will speak to 2,500 high school health classes. Over the next year, Rite Aid will be training 6,000 pharmacists about naloxone and will expand its naloxone dispensing program.

When it comes to education, organizations representing pharmacy are at the forefront of sharing information with members. The National Community Pharmacists Association will be distributing inserts highlighting safe drug disposal and the benefits of naloxone, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores will also share information about overdoses and the ways naloxone can help with overdoses. Additionally, the American Pharmacists Association will educate pharmacists and pharmacy students with its new resource center on abuse and misuse of opioids.

Access to prescription drug monitoring programs will be enhanced for physicians and pharmacists in Ky., Del., N.D. and Ariz. in 2016, and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists will train and education 40,000 pharmacists, students and technicians.

Beyond the pharmacy sector and healthcare organizations’ involvement, such community organizations as the Elks and the Fraternal Order of Police, state and local governments and such law-enforcement agencies as the Drug Enforcement Administration are joining this effort.

Over the next two to three years, the hope is that there will be twice as many physicians able to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder and prescribe naloxone, and twice as many providers registered with their states’ prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) as there are today. 

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PHARMACY

CDC: State data shows opioid prescribing behavior needs to change

BY David Salazar

ATLANTA — A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shining light on steps that can be taken to prevent opioid abuse and misuse. Using 2013 data from state prescription drug monitoring programs from eight states, the CDC found that prescribing practices between states vary drastically. Additionally, demographic differences between states do not entirely explain the variation, and the CDC notes that the real way to fix the issue is to improve prescribing practices.

“A more comprehensive approach is needed to address the prescription opioid overdose epidemic, including guidance to providers on the risks and benefits of these medications,” Dr. Debra Houry, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said.

One of the largest contributors to opioid abuse is overprescribing done by a small number of prescribers whose prevalence is different between states. For example, in Del., the top 1% of prescribers wrote 25% of the state’s opioid prescriptions, compared with 1-in-8 prescriptions in Maine by the top 1%. Equally variant between the states was the prevalence of patients paying with cash, which the CDC notes is a sign of abuse — differing almost threefold between five states reporting that data.

“Every day, 44 people die in American communities from an overdose of prescription opioids and many more become addicted,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said. “States are on the frontline of witnessing these overdose deaths.  This research can help inform their prescription overdose prevention efforts and save lives.”

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Alembic Pharmaceuticals debuts in U.S. with Namenda generic

BY David Salazar

GUJARAT, India — Alembic Pharmaceuticals has kicked off its operations in the United States with the launch of its memantine hydrochloride tablets, a generic of Namenda. The drug, which is indicated to treat Alzheimer’s diseases and dementia, will be available in 5- and 10-mg dosage strengths.

“We are very excited about the launch of Memantine tablets and the opportunity to provide patients an affordable therapeutic option” Craig Salmon, Alembic’s president of U.S. operations said.  “This is an important step for Alembic and the first of many new products to be launched into the U.S. market in the immediate future.”   

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