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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Surgeon General, SAMHSA Release Updated Report on Challenges Fighting Opioid Epidemic

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Last week, the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released the jointly developed Spotlight on Opioids, aiming to provide an update on opioid use and amplify discussion about substance use disorders (SUD) generally. In a statement announcing the report, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar expressed support for medication-assisted treatment (MAT), while the Surgeon General and the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, called out several challenges impacting efforts to curb the crisis, including persistent societal stigma, workforce shortages and a lack of workforce supports.

The new document compiles the latest data on prevalence of substance use, opioid misuse, opioid use disorders, opioid overdoses and related harm in a consumer-friendly document and incorporates previously-reported scientific information from a separate report, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” The Spotlight highlights the fact that although effective treatment for opioid use disorder exists and more individuals are seeking out treatment than last year, only about one in four impacted individuals receive any type of specialty treatment. The HHS report includes preliminary information showing that opioids were involved in 48,000 of the 72,000 drug-overdose deaths in the U.S. last year, yet only 53 percent of polled Americans considered the epidemic a “major concern.”

In a statement accompanying the report, Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrote that despite the promise integrating SUD services into primary care holds for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, challenges remain. According to the Surgeon General the challenges include:

  • A substance use disorder treatment system that is “vastly underprepared” to support care coordination;
  • Slow implementation of MAT, prevention activities, early identification, and other evidence-based recommendations in primary care settings have stalled advances in reducing the epidemic;
  • Shortages in the existing health care workforce as well as gaps in the necessary training and education outreach;
  • The burden of patient confidentiality regulations on information sharing limited federal, state, and local action against substance use;
  • Ongoing stigma, which has resulted in only a fourth of opioid use disorder patients to seek and receive treatment, requires a “cultural shift” in how Americans discuss opioid addiction and mental health; and
  • Consumers’ inability to access or afford care.

While the pending opioid bill in Congress has garnered widespread support, it has still been subject to criticism for failing to address the magnitude of the current crisis. This report highlights the treatment gap that remains and could inform and serve as a key driver to advance new legislation in the next Congress.

Read the Spotlight on Opioids here.