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HHS Takes Strong Steps to Address Opioid-Drug Related Overdose, Death and Dependence

Washington, DC, March 28, 2015 ― U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell on Thursday announced a targeted initiative aimed at reducing prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death and dependence.

Deaths from drug overdose have risen steadily over the past two decades and currently outnumber deaths from car accidents in the United States.

The President’s FY 2016 budget includes critical investments to intensify efforts to reduce opioid misuse and abuse, including $133 million in new funding to address this critical issue.

The Secretary’s efforts focus on three priority areas that tackle the opioid crisis, significantly impacting those struggling with substance use disorders and helping save lives.

  1. Providing training and educational resources, including updated prescriber guidelines, to assist health professionals in making informed prescribing decisions and address the over-prescribing of opioids.
  2. Increasing use of naloxone, as well as continuing to support the development and distribution of the life-saving drug, to help reduce the number of deaths associated with prescription opioid and heroin overdose.
  3. Expanding the use of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a comprehensive way to address the needs of individuals that combines the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders.

Addressing the opioid crisis is a top priority for the department and the Secretary is committed to bipartisan solutions and evidence-informed interventions to turn the tide against opioid drug-related overdose and misuse.

Secretary Burwell said, “Opioid drug abuse is a devastating epidemic facing our nation. I have seen firsthand, in my home state of West Virginia, a state struggling with this very real crisis, the impact of opioid addiction.  That’s why I’m taking a targeted approach to tackling this issue focused on prevention, treatment and intervention.  I also know we can’t do this alone.  We need all stakeholders to come together to fight the opioid epidemic.”

Prescription drugs, especially opioid analgesics—a class of prescription drugs used to treat both acute and chronic pain such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and methadone, have increasingly been implicated in drug overdose deaths over the last decade.

Deaths related to heroin have also sharply increased since 2010, with a 39 percent increase between 2012 and 2013.  Among drug overdose deaths in 2013, approximately 37 percent involved prescription opioids.  Given these alarming trends, it is time for a sustainable response to prevent and treat opioid use disorders.

For the complete HHS press release, which provides additional detail on the HHS’s plan, click here.