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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Obama Announces Efforts to Combat Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse Epidemic

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On Wednesday, President Obama announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat the growing opioid and heroin abuse epidemic. His announcement, made in Charleston, West Virginia, outlined steps to increase patients’ access to lifesaving treatment and expand the training of prescribers of opioids and other controlled substances. Of particular importance, the President’s initiative aims to increase the use and distribution of naloxone as well as double the number of providers prescribing buprenorphine across the country.

“This crisis is taking lives; it’s destroying families and shattering communities all across the country,” Obama said at a panel discussion on opioid drug abuse. “That’s the thing about substance abuse; it doesn’t discriminate. It touches everybody.”

The President’s announcement outlined two specific initiatives:


Increasing prescriber training efforts

In 2012, health care providers wrote more than 250 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications in the United States. President Obama announced his commitment to ensuring providers across the country receive thorough training in opioid prescribing. Specifically, the President said he aims to have more than 540,000 health care providers complete opioid prescriber trainings in the next two years. His goal is to reach more than 4 million health providers with awareness messaging on opioid abuse as well as education on appropriate and safe prescribing practices.


Improving patients’ access to providers and treatment

To date, more than 80 million Americans live in a medically-underserved community, many in rural areas without access to quality mental health or addiction treatment services. The President’s initiative heavily endorses the success of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The administration will work to identify barriers to MAT and develop methods to address those barriers. Additionally, the President announced efforts to increase the use and distribution of buprenorphine and naloxone. The goal, the president said, is to double the buprenorphine prescriber population from 30,000 to 60,000 over the next two years.

Despite this announcement, the President and his initiative are dependent on Congress to provide adequate funding. After passing a short-term funding measure in October, Congress has yet to take up a long-term spending bill for FY 2016. Government funding is set to run out on December 11.