Rx Abuse is a Presidential Priority

Obama is doing more, and so can the medical community.

Dr. Don Teater is medical advisor, prescription drug overdose initiatives, at the National Safety Council.

​More than 2,000 people converged on Atlanta this week to educate, collaborate and learn about prescription opioid pain medications and the devastating effect they are having on our country. Even President Barack Obama showed up to show his support and announce new federal efforts to save lives.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has been working on this issue for years, and last October Mr. Obama traveled to West Virginia where he met with those working and living at ground zero of this issue. He seemed to be genuinely saddened by the stories of those affected.

Since that visit, Mr. Obama has focused more attention on the opioid epidemic. He has introduced an additional $1 billion for treatment of opioid addiction. At the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, he proposed doubling the number of patients that a doctor can treat with buprenorphine from 100 to 200; that will go a long way in improving access to treatment for those who are currently addicted. He also announced that he is forming a task force to make sure that public and private insurance will pay for addiction treatment the same way it pays for other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

These are great starts, but there is so much more to do, largely in two central areas.

  • The medical community must realize that we are the cause of this epidemic. Prescribing must change.  Opioid pain medications are less effective than ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  There are better options for treating pain.
  • We must teach the medical community and the public that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing.  Addiction must be treated with ongoing follow-up – and sometimes medications – just like any other chronic disease. Treatment should not be limited to one to two years; many people need ongoing treatment for the rest of the lives. 

It was exciting at the Summit to see so many people with passion to make a difference, improve and save lives. It is, however, discouraging to see how far we have to go. This is the fifth annual Summit and drug overdose rates continue to rise. It will certainly help that the most powerful person in the world believes this is a priority for our country. Let's hope that will help us turn a corner and take stronger action to prevent addiction, aid in recovery and save lives.

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