Combating the Epidemic Levels of Opiate Addiction

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking new measures to combat our country’s opioid epidemic, which was described by HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell as,

“One of the most pressing public health issues in the United States.”

The HHS’s new actions include the following:

Eliminating Potential Financial Incentives for Doctors Prescribing Opioids

In order to eliminate monetary incentives for prescribing opioids, HHS proposes removing pain management questions from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS)’s hospital payment calculation. The HCAHPS is a patient satisfaction survey required for all hospitals in the U.S., and it contains questions about pain management that are tied to Medicare payments to hospitals. This connection sometimes makes physicians feel pressured to overprescribe opioids. Removing the pain management questions from the hospital payment calculation would mean that the questions are still on the survey, but they no longer affect the payment to hospitals.

New Policy for Indian Health Service

In an effort to reduce inappropriate prescribing, HHS has also made adjustments to its Indian Health Service (IHS). IHS, which provides health care to Native American and Alaskan Native peoples, will now require prescribers and pharmacists to check their state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database before prescribing opioids. PDMP databases help identify patients who may have opioid misuse problems. IHS will also provide law enforcement officers with naloxone and train them on its proper use. Naloxone is an overdose-reversing drug that can quickly restore breathing that has stopped or slowed due to an opioid overdose.

The actions taken by HHS are a step forward in the U.S.’s battle against opioid misuse. Focusing on prevention and treatment is a great approach that even President Obama has committed to. In addition to these new measures, HHS announced that it will initiate over a dozen new scientific studies on opioid misuse and pain management. Expanding our knowledge on these topics will arm us with the right tools to fight the epidemic.

Opiate Addiction: There is Hope

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day, and half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription drug.

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