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Opioid National Emergency Should Be Declared, Federal Commission Recommends

A special commission formed by President Donald Trump to combat the worsening opioid epidemic, is calling for a national emergency to be declared as part of the effort to address the crisis, according to a new report. 

The interim report was prepared by the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, offering a number of immediate recommendations on how to combat the opioid painkiller epidemic. However, the committee said issuing a national emergency is the “first and most urgent recommendation,” as the U.S. is a “nation in crisis.”

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 142 Americans die every day from drug overdoses. Authors of the report indicated the that the opioid overdose death toll every three weeks equals that of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Drug overdoses kill more people in the U.S than gun homicides and car crashes combined. In fact, between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 people died from drug overdoses. Even as abuse has seemingly decreased, opioid overdose deaths have increased.

In 2015, two-thirds of drug overdoses were linked to opioids, including Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl, which on its own is largely driving the number of opioid deaths.

The epidemic is only worsening. Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. last year was enough for every American to be medicated 24 hours a day for three weeks consecutively.

The governors of Arizona, Florida, Maryland and Virginia have declared states of emergency regarding opioid addiction crisis, while the Governor of Alaska has issued a disaster declaration.

“The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled,” the commission wrote.

In addition to the declaration of a national emergency, the report calls for a federal waiver for limits on addiction treatment. This would offer substance abuse treatment to thousands of Americans in every state across the country.

The commission also called for mandating doctor prescribing education initiatives. Many experts warn overdose problems are spurred by doctor’s prescribing habits. A study published last year concluded that when doctors are monitored, their opioid prescribing decreases.

Additionally, the committee recommended establishing and funding federal incentives to enhance access to medication assisted treatment; providing federal funds to support interstate data sharing for state-based prescription drug monitoring programs; offering funding and manpower to Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and DEA to develop fentanyl detection sensors to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies; and allowing substance abuse disorder information to be available to medical professionals treating and prescribing opioids to patients through better regulation of HIPAA practices.

The committee also called for model legislation for states to have a standing order for naloxone dispensing, as well as prescribing naloxone with all high-risk opioid prescriptions. Naloxone is a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

The report also recommended mandating that health plans can’t impose less favorable benefits for mental health and substance use diagnoses. Opioid use disorders have increased six-fold since 2001. However, only 10 percent of more than 21 million people with substance use disorders receive any type of specialty treatment.

“We have an enormous problem that is often not beginning on street corners; it is starting in doctor’s offices and hospitals in every state in our nation,” said report authors.

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