Trump: Overdose Crisis a ‘Public Health Emergency’

By Pat Anson, Editor

President Trump today declared the overdose crisis a nationwide “public health emergency,” a legal designation that falls well short of the national emergency sought by his own opioid commission.

The difference between the two is significant. Under a national emergency, the Trump administration could immediately access funds already set aside for disaster and emergency relief. There is little funding currently available -- only about $57,000 -- to pay for a public health emergency.

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Despite the lack of funding, President Trump pledged his administration would act swiftly to end an overdose crisis that he said was killing 7 Americans every hour.

“Nobody has seen anything like what's going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.  It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said.

“That is why, effective today, my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law, and why I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.  This marks a critical step in confronting the extraordinary challenge that we face.”

The president said he was awaiting a final report and recommendations from the White House opioid commission, which is expected next week. An interim report by the commission in July strongly urged the president to declare a national emergency.  

Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life,” the report said. “You, Mr. President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately.”

Soon after the interim report was released, the president said he would declare a national emergency, but the White House never got around to actually declaring one -- amid reports of division in the administration about what should be done and how to pay for it.

Nearly $1 billion in federal funding to pay for addiction treatment was authorized by Congress in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

The National Safety Council released a statement saying the president’s declaration was “vague at a time when a clear path forward is critical.”

“The federal response must include adequate funding for implementing other evidence-based strategies as well, a move the president himself said is necessary,” the statement said.

Also expressing disappointment was Andrew Kolodny, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher at Brandeis University, who is the founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), an anti-opioid activist group.

"Everything that was mentioned today sounds helpful, but mentioning a few helpful items is not a plan," Kolodny told Time Magazine.

Koldony, who is the former chief medical officer of Phoenix House, said a massive appropriation of $60 billion to subsidize the addiction treatment industry would be needed over the next decade.

The number of people seeking treatment for abuse of pain medication has actually been in decline for years. According to a recent DEA report, there were 128,175 admissions to publicly-funded treatment facilities for painkiller abuse in 2014, a decrease of about 32 percent since 2011.

‘Truly Evil’ Painkiller

President Trump outlined a number of steps his administration has taken or will take to combat opioid abuse. That includes filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their marketing of opioid pain medication, something many states are already doing.

“I will be looking at the potential of the federal government bringing major lawsuits against bad actors.  What they have and what they're doing to our people is unheard of.  We will be bringing some very major lawsuits against people and against companies that are hurting our people.  And that will start taking place pretty soon,” he warned. 

President Trump said one opioid painkiller was “truly evil” and should be taken off the market immediately because it had a high risk of abuse. That was apparently a reference to Opana ER, an extended released opioid that Endo International agreed to stop selling in July.

The president also praised CVS Health for its plan to limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7-days’ supply and the CDC for launching a public awareness campaign that "put a face" on opioid abuse.    

An Inconvenient Footnote in the Opioid Crisis

By Roger Chriss, Columnist

The opioid crisis is now a national emergency. President Trump has instructed his administration “to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

The full strategy is not entirely clear. But so far, prevention, strict regulation and law enforcement are its core features. The Department of Justice recently announced the formation of its new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. The DEA has proposed a further reduction in opioid production quotas. And the FDA is working to reduce the flow of illicit fentanyl in the postal service.

Meanwhile, anti-opioid activist groups such as the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) are pushing for stricter prescribing regulations and reduced prescribing levels.

As PROP stated in a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, “Until opioids are prescribed more cautiously it will not be possible to bring the opioid addiction epidemic under control.”

Amid all this, people with persistent pain disorders are little more than an inconvenient footnote.

The evidence clearly shows that the opioid crisis is being driven primarily by illegal drugs. Time magazine reports that in a large national survey, 60% of those who reported misusing opioid medication did so without a prescription. “About 40% of these people accessed opioids free from friends or relatives. Among people who developed addiction or other abuse disorders, 14% said they bought them from drug dealers or strangers," Time said.

Moreover, people who are addicted to heroin rarely get their start with opioids prescribed for a valid medical condition. A study in JAMA Psychiatry found that heroin addicts often have a history of abusing opioid medication because “prescription opioids are much more readily available to younger individuals, particularly as an initial drug of abuse, given the common belief that because prescription opioids are legal, they are considered trustworthy and predictable."

Few media reports mention the strict conditions under which opioids are prescribed in pain contracts between doctors and patients. As described in Pain Medicine News, a “Stipulations of Opioid Treatment Agreement” requires that patients on opioid therapy use only one pharmacy, undergo random urine drug screening, and abstain from alcohol.

Yet all of this goes largely ignored. The narrative of the opioid crisis has been streamlined and simplified to the point that chronic pain patients are either part of the problem, or at least getting in the way of the solution. The CDC guidelines and PROP, as well as state laws and regulations, treat pain patients as an afterthought. We are an inconvenient footnote.

But persistent pain cannot be ignored. Its physical and emotional impact is so costly, that a group of economists recently put a price tag on it.  They estimate that avoiding a single day of chronic pain is worth up $145 for the average person. That works out to nearly $53,000 per year.

This means pain management is extremely valuable to most people.
The pain of connective tissue disorders like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and other incurable chronic pain conditions like adhesive arachnoiditis can be crippling. People living with these disorders need to have all options on the table because the worst has already happened and they are trying to survive as best as they can.

The Washington state opioid prescribing guideline states that "in carefully selected and monitored patients, opioids may provide effective pain relief if used as part of a comprehensive multimodal pain management strategy. A combination of pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and rehabilitative approaches in addition to a strong therapeutic alliance between the older patient and physician is essential to achieve desired treatment outcomes."

That excerpt is from the chapter on “Chronic Pain Management in Special Populations,” a group that arguably should include people with chronic, progressive, or degenerative disorders.

A similar statement from the CDC or even PROP that long-term opioid therapy can be useful for some patients when other pain treatments are ineffective would help keep all pain management options on the table.

We have a chance to stop the worsening crisis of pain mismanagement that is resulting from well-intentioned efforts to address the opioid crisis. A few words added to the CDC guideline or the position statements of groups like PROP could help chronic pain sufferers avoid the perils of being an inconvenient footnote.

Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society.

Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Trump Declares Opioid Crisis National Emergency

By Pat Anson, Editor

President Donald Trump said he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, just two days after his administration said a declaration wasn’t necessary.

"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying, officially right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump said outside the clubhouse of his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.  “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”

In a brief statement after the President’s remarks, the White House said Trump had instructed the administration “to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

An estimated 142 Americans are dying every day from drug overdoses of all kinds, not just opioids. Prescription painkillers are often blamed as the cause of the problem, although deaths linked to opioid medication have leveled off in recent years. Heroin and illicit fentanyl are currently driving the overdose crisis and in some states are involved in over half of the overdose deaths.  

A White House commission last week urged the president to declare a national emergency, but administration officials indicated as recently as Tuesday that such a declaration wasn’t necessary because the administration was already treating the opioid crisis as an emergency.

“We believe at this point that the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis at this point can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency, although all things are on the table for the president,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the opioid commission, applauded the apparent change of heart.

“It is a national emergency and the President has confirmed that through his words and actions today, and he deserves great credit for doing so. As I have said before, I am completely confident that the President will address this problem aggressively and do all he can to alleviate the suffering and loss of scores of families in every corner of our country,” Christie said in a statement.

“This declaration is only one of many steps we must take on the federal level to reduce the death toll and help people achieve long-term recovery – but it’s a start. I’m committed to working with the President and my fellow commissioners to end the opioid overdose epidemic,” said commission member and former congressman Patrick Kennedy.

It was not immediately clear what steps the administration will take now that an emergency has been declared. A 10-page interim report released by the opioid commission recommends increased access to addiction treatment, mandatory education for prescribers on the risks and benefits of opioids, and increased efforts to detect and stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country.

There are no specific recommendations aimed at reducing access to prescription opioids, although they could be added to the commission’s final report, which is due in October. Prescriptions for opioid medication – long a target of addiction treatment and anti-opioid activists – have been in decline for several years. The DEA has plans to reduce the supply of many painkillers even more in 2018.

Other measures recommended by the commission:

  • Grant waivers to states to eliminate barriers to mental health and addiction treatment
  • Increase availability of naloxone as an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses
  • Amend the Controlled Substance Act to require additional training in pain management for all prescribers
  • Prioritize funding to Homeland Security, FBI and DEA to quickly develop fentanyl detection sensors
  • Stop the flow of synthetic opioids through the U.S. Postal Service
  • Enhance the sharing of data between prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)

No estimate was provided on the cost of any of these measures.

In a statement on Tuesday, President Trump suggested that law enforcement and abstinence should be used to address the opioid crisis. 

“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don’t start, they won't have a problem.  If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off," Trump said, according to a White House transcript.