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New coalition highlights busy day on opioid-fighting front

May 20, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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The convergence of events appeared purely coincidental, but actions announced on May 19 made the Thursday a signature day for examining strategies to combat the opioid crisis.

The most highly publicized of the events was the joining together of several healthcare and addiction-focused groups in Washington, D.C., as the newly announced Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose. Featuring funding support from several pharmaceutical interests, the coalition stated that it will work to build on legislative momentum at the federal and state levels to push for comprehensive legislation to combat misuse, overdose and addiction. The first of five stated goals of the coalition is to improve access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

“There remains an urgent need for simple and achievable prevention, treatment and recovery policies that can reduce opioid overdose,” said R. Corey Waller, MD, who chairs the American Society of Addiction Medicine's (ASAM's) legislative advocacy committee. Other addiction-focused groups that are joining ASAM on the coalition include Young People in Recovery, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), the Association of Recovery Schools, and Facing Addiction.

On the same day that the coalition was promoting its legislative agenda, national health insurer Cigna outlined several actions it will undertake to have an impact on the drug crisis, including an effort to reduce its plan members' opioid use by 25% (which would take it back to 2006 levels). In addition, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in New Jersey hosted a May 19 forum on opioid-fighting innovations that included among its panelists New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Andrea Barthwell, MD, a former administrator with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and now chief medical officer at The Manor.

Coalition's agenda

The Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose encompassed 13 organizations at the time of its official launch this week. Members include the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the National Association of Social Workers.

As Congress ultimately seeks to reconcile addiction-related legislation from both houses, the coalition will be focusing its efforts on five areas of policy response to the opioid crisis:

  • Improving access to MAT for individuals with opioid addiction.

  • Expanding the availability of the overdose reversal drug naloxone in healthcare and other settings.

  • Implementing enhanced prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).

  • Raising the level of opioid prescriber education.

  • Enacting the Senate's Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).

ASAM, along with entities that include several pharmaceutical companies and MAT provider Clean Slate Centers, are backing the coalition's effort financially.

Cigna, which recently announced a partnership with ASAM in order to identify best practices in addiction treatment services, this week publicized steps it will take in response to the opioid crisis. It stated that it will seek to reduce its customers' overall opioid use by working with clients, physicians and other involved parties. In addition, the company said it will initiate efforts such as:

  • Supporting the requirement that opioid prescribers check PDMP records when prescribing more than a 21-day supply of a painkiller.

  • Exploring enhanced controls on high-risk customers identified through the insurer's data.

  • Working with its provider network to ensure sufficient access to MAT as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

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