This Week's News in Substance Use: 3/23/18

SUD news 3/23

Congress Is Hyping Up Its Opioid Bills. But There’s Not Much to Hype. Vox

“The bills, based on what experts have told me, seem to be generally positive — taking a mostly public health approach to addressing the opioid crisis. They’re very varied: Some aim to improve access to treatment, including highly effective medications for opioid addiction such as methadone and buprenorphine. Others push federal agencies to better regulate opioid painkillers and seek out non-opioid alternatives to pain treatment. Several try to improve education and awareness of opioid-related problems.

But while there are quite a few bills in play, advocates and experts aren’t convinced this is good enough. It’s not that the bills are bad; it’s that they take a scattershot approach that nibbles at the issue around the margins — and misses problems that a more comprehensive strategy or package of bills could fully address.

New HHS Secretary: Opioid Addiction Is Not a Moral Failing and Should Be Treated as a Medical Condition , CNBC

“People who are dependent on opioids shouldn't be stigmatized, and their addiction should be treated as a medical condition, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday.

“’This is not a moral issue,’ said Azar, who has spent his career working in both the private and public sector of health care as an attorney and other various leadership roles.

"’They are not individuals who are seeking out to be [addicted], or are seeking out a high. They are individuals who are getting trapped in a cycle of addiction,’" Azar told CNBC's ‘Squawk Box.’”

Omissions On Death Certificates Lead to Undercounting of Opioid Overdoses , NPR

“In a refrigerator in the coroner's office in Marion County, Ind., rows of vials await testing. They contain blood, urine and vitreous, the fluid collected from inside a human eye.

In overdose cases, the fluids may contain clues for investigators.

“‘We send that off to a toxicology lab to be tested for what we call drugs of [misuse],’ said Alfie Ballew, deputy coroner. The results often include drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl or prescription pharmaceuticals.

“After testing, coroners typically write the drugs involved in an overdose on the death certificate — but not always.”

Feds Work with Drugmakers to Boost Research into Non-Opioid Painkillers, Treatments , USA Today

“Federal officials said they are working to get new non-opioid painkillers onto the market, along with opioid treatment drugs, part of the administration's strategy to address an addiction epidemic that shows no signs of abating.

“To those who became addicted after they were prescribed or tried pharmaceutical opioids as teens, the alternatives come too late but are still welcome news.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Grills DEA Chief Over Free Flow of Opioids , The Washington Post

“The acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration said a database that monitors the flow of powerful prescription painkillers from manufacturer to distribution point was compiled manually during the height of the opioid crisis, making it a reactive, not proactive, tool.

“The information contained in the drug-reporting database, known as ARCOS, is key to figuring out how many painkillers were distributed to pharmacies across the country from around 2006 to 2010. The data is confidential, but some information that has been released and analyzed is staggering: In two instances, millions of pills were shipped to pharmacies in tiny West Virginia towns.”

Trump Promised a Big Policy Speech on Opioids, But Couldn’t Stay Focused , Think Progress

“In a strange Monday afternoon speech on opioid policy, President Donald Trump dedicated the bulk of his time to ideas that would be likely to worsen the crisis.

“Reporters who had been briefed on the administration’s plans ahead of time wrote that the White House seeks to put force behind a 12-point guideline for the proper, safe prescribing of opioids that has languished for two years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released them. The move would be a rare thing for Trump’s opioid policy so far: a novel move rather than a continuation of existing policy, and one that appeals to treatment-oriented groups rather than just law enforcement advocates.

“Gary Mendell, an addiction and recovery expert who runs the organization Shatterproof, told ThinkProgress the guidelines are ‘the single most important thing we could do to prevent tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of our loved ones from becoming addicted to opioids.’”

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