President Donald Trump declared America’s opioid crisis a public health emergency on Thursday, announcing, “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.” But how?
The president opted not to declare the situation a national emergency, despite widespread pressure. A national emergency designation would likely have elicited robust federal funding. A public health emergency, on the other hand, relies on the Public Health Emergency Fund, which some say is inadequate to respond to the epidemic. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses kills 91 Americans every day.
The administration has identified several means of response. It will allow some existing federal funding, such as that for HIV/AIDS, to go toward opioid addiction treatment. And it plans to wage an ad campaign to educate young people about the dangers of addiction and abuse. The administration also looks to boost the health care workforce. That includes expediting the hiring process for medical staff who deal with opioid issues and expanding telemedicine so that physicians can treat more patients for addiction.
The impact of these solutions is limited, however, unless health care providers are also equipped with alternative treatment options. As discussed at this month’s first-ever Pain Care Policy Congress, health plan design has led to low-cost, generic opioids being the first, and sometimes only, treatment that’s prescribed. Varied out-of-pocket costs for patients can be an obstacle to balanced pain management, which includes a range of treatments for chronic pain – physical therapy, chiropractic care, cognitive therapy, and others. Coverage for multimodal treatment of acute or surgical pain is another key component of balanced pain management, though hospital’s approved drugs lists may also favor low-cost opioids.
Barriers like these compromise the power of a personalized treatment plan, one that is made by a doctor and patient. But as national attention to the opioid crisis continues to grow, patients and advocates are committed to addressing those barriers.
In particular, issues of access and coverage will come alive at the Alliance for Balanced Pain Management’s November 14 summit in Washington, DC. The group, which educates and advocates on the value of a balanced approach to treating pain, finds itself poised to deliver a timely and important message: To be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic, we will need to be the generation that gives patients safer, more effective and more varied options for treating pain.