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Rx Summit: HHS prioritizes the opioid crisis

April 20, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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The opioid crisis, mental health and childhood obesity are three key focus areas of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to Secretary Tom Price, MD, speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Wednesday.

“It’s important that we reckon with the reality of the crisis,” Price said. “It’s not a time to sugar-coat any of the facts. The millions of Americans who are struggling with addiction today don’t have time for that."

National statistics show that overdose in the United States causes 52,000 lives lost each year, which is equal to the total lives lost in the 12 or so years of the Vietnam War. The country is enduring a Vietnam War every single year, he said.

According to Price, HHS leaders and the president aim to address the crisis head-on.

“President Trump cares about it a lot and believes deeply in this battle,” Price said.

HHS strategy

The HHS strategy includes improving access to treatment, use of naloxone, improved surveillance of epidemic and clinical advancements in addiction research and pain management. Price underlined the $500 million federal investment that is being implemented this year through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed in 2016.

Through the two laws, HHS is providing $485 million in grants to all 50 states through the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants administered by SAMHSA. Funding will support prevention, treatment, and recovery services, based on state rates of overdose deaths and unmet need for opioid addiction treatment.  Specific state amounts can be found here.

Price, who practiced as an orthopaedic surgeon, also earned a round of applause from Rx Summit attendees when he characterized the controversial clinical philosophy that pain be considered a fifth vital sign as “nonsensical.”

“You can’t take a symptom and make it a vital sign,” he said.

Also echoing a point made in a separate presentation from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Price noted that serious attention must be given to the more elusive pain that stems from poverty, loneliness and despair—which often can underlie addiction disorders. Both federal leaders indicated that such psychological stress is a problem that is difficult to solve but hard to deny.