Opioids: President, federal officials highlight efforts to combat epidemic
- By FederalSoup Staff
- Apr 25, 2019
ATLANTA—This week, at the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit hosted here, the federal government came under the news spotlight—for the many federal agencies countering the country’s opioid epidemic, and for the many federal statistics cited on the catastrophe’s massive costs to individuals, families and the economy.
Those statistics are staggering. Opioid abuse has been killing 47,000 people each year—about 130 lives lost each day—while sapping $80 billion from the overall American economy, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a unit of the federal National Institutes of Health.
Yet—between the programs started by the last White House and new ones under the present one—political leaders and some experts say they finally see a turnaround coming.
President Trump, for one, is heralding what he identifies as “tremendous progress” in the nation’s fight against the epidemic. He spoke April 24 at the summit.
The meeting is essentially a problem-solving conference of medical, private-sector and governmental leaders held here—one that hosts at least 3,000 stakeholders.
“Today, I am honored to join the thousands of leaders from across the country for the 2019 Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit,” the president said at the event. “Very important—everyone here today is united by the same vital goal: to liberate our fellow Americans from the grip of drug addiction and to end the opioid crisis once and for all.”
The president then highlighted specific resources, recently brought to the fight against the epidemic—from increases in federal funding, to the promise of improved access to help under the federal SUPPORT Act, to growth in faith-based efforts to hit back at the problem.
And, finally, the president—echoed by his head of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington—underscored new prevention and treatment approaches ramping up at that key agency. Help for former servicepersons is an area of special interest to federal employees, nearly a third of whom are veterans.
“Just recently, I signed Veterans Choice—where a veteran can go, and if the wait is going to be days or weeks or months, which it used to be, they go out and see a private doctor—immediate care,” Trump said, praising the agency’s still-controversial outsourcing of some care under the CHOICE Act.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, in an online statement published the same day, buttressed the president’s take—stressing the success of the agency’s cautious protocols in the use of opioids.
“More than 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain, and the overuse and misuse of opioids for pain management in our country is taking too many lives,” Wilkie said on the VA website. “Veterans who have served our nation are particularly challenged by chronic pain. VA has demonstrated success in reducing opioid use, while addressing the challenge of living well with chronic pain.”
The VA has pointed out that in recent years—specifically, the last six years spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations—the agency’s Opioid Safety Initiative has cut VA healthcare opioid prescriptions by over 50 percent. Making the effort to avoid unnecessary long courses of opioids accounted for most of this reduction, the document said.
The agency says it has been employing “complementary pain management strategies,” including acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic medicine, tai chi and bio-feedback, and others, wherever practicable and appropriate.
There are over 18 million veterans in the U.S., with about half of those—more than 9 million—reported as served by the VA and its healthcare offerings. Improvements in VA administration of opioids can—and do—have significant impact in alleviating the epidemic.