March 26, 2015

HHS Announces New Effort to Help Address Opioid Addiction and Overdoses

While drug deaths related to prescription painkillers have remained stable since 2012, deaths related to heroin use have increased by 39 percent. To combat this problem, this week the Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new initiative aimed at reducing prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death and dependence. 

The new HHS effort will focus on three areas: increasing training for prescribers to help them make informed decisions when it comes to prescribing opioid medicines; increasing the use of Naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan; and expanding the use of medication-assisted treatment. 

“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,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.  “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 more information on the Secretary’s efforts and this initiative, see here.

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