During the height of the Vietnam War, the United States lost nearly 57,000 lives. In 2015, we lost nearly that many Americans to a drug overdose, the majority of those deaths caused by opioids.
Families and communities all across the country are being devastated by opioid abuse and addiction. Combating this crisis is one of three clinical priorities we have set for our team at the Department of Health and Human Services. We have introduced a five-point strategy that takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid epidemic.
1. Improving access to prevention, treatment and recovery services including the full range of medication-assisted treatment
We are working to connect those addicted to opioids and those at-risk of addiction with the tools that they and their loved ones need to rollback this scourge infecting our communities and put our fellow citizens on the road to long-term recovery.
2. Targeting availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs
On the frontlines the medical community, first responders and concerned citizens are battling this epidemic one individual at a time – often with little time to spare. Getting overdose-reversing medications into their hands will save lives.
3. Strengthening public health data and reporting on the epidemic
Knowing how to succeed in this fight means having accurate and up-to-date intelligence on the latest trends, what is working to curb abuse, addiction and overdose and where we can do more.
4. Supporting cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
America has the finest scientists in the world – many working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their expertise and talents are advancing our understanding of pain and addiction as well as our knowledge of how to treat and prevent it. This includes the possibility of a vaccine to ward off addiction.
5. Advancing better practices for pain management
As a physician, I know firsthand that prescribing opioids to assist those suffering from chronic pain may not always be the most appropriate course of action, but sometimes it is the right decision. The vast majority of physicians are working to provide the best care for their patients by addressing their pain. They should have the best information and tools available to make those decisions, while helping them to avoid the often well-meant but misguided incentives that can lead to over-prescribing.
At HHS, we have awarded more than half a billion dollars in grant funding so far this year to combat this crisis. But money alone will not solve the problem. We are working with Congress and other federal departments as well as a constellation of state and local agencies and community organizations to invest significant time, talent and resources into the fight against the opioid epidemic.
Traveling around the country, we have met those recovering from addiction and the loved ones of those afflicted by it. We have heard stories both heartbreaking and inspiring. It is with our fellow citizens in mind that we remain committed to addressing this crisis with a strategy to succeed.