Trump Includes Death Penalty for Drug Dealers in Plan to Fight Opioid Crisis


President Trump this week announced new plans to fight the opioid crisis, including a proposal to seek the death penalty for drug dealers, NBC News reports. The plans also include launching a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of prescription and illicit opioid use, as well as other drug use, according to a White House fact sheet. Trump called for increased border security to combat the flow of drugs into the United States. The opioid initiative will “support research and development efforts for innovative technologies and additional therapies designed to prevent addiction and decrease the use of opioids in pain management,” according to the statement.

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Bipartisan Group of Governors Calls for More Action to Combat Opioid Crisis


Democratic and Republican governors are calling on the federal government to do more to combat the opioid crisis, The Wall Street Journal reports. Last week governors from both parties testified before the Senate Health Committee about opioid addiction in their states. A number of governors also met with White House officials about the issue. “Every single governor has it at the top of his or her list, even more than Congress because they’re seeing it,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, told the newspaper. “This is the top issue for governors, and 33 are Republican,” said Robert Blendon, a health policy professor at Harvard University. “The heat [Trump] is taking is from Republican governors. They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to run in 2018 not having done a lot to open up treatment programs.’”

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Justice Department to Examine Role of Drug Makers and Distributors in Opioid Crisis


A new Justice Department task force will examine the role of drug manufacturers and distributors in the opioid crisis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said recently. Sessions also announced the Justice Department will file a statement of interest in hundreds of lawsuits against drug companies brought by local governments and medical institutions, seeking reimbursement for the cost of the epidemic, The Washington Post reports. Sessions said in a statement, “The hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve to be compensated by those whose illegal activity contributed to those costs. And we will go to court to ensure that the American people receive the compensation they deserve.”

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Legislative Hearings on Opioid Crisis to Focus on Law Enforcement, Public Health


House Republicans will hold a series of hearings on addressing the opioid crisis, with a focus on law enforcement, public health and insurance coverage, according to The Wall Street Journal. The first hearing, by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will be held on February 28. The bills to be considered are likely to require additional funding from Congress, the article notes. One bill under consideration would make it easier for certain derivatives of synthetic drugs to be categorized as controlled substances. Another bill would ensure that doctors can get details of a patient’s past substance use if consent is given. Under one piece of legislation, in-home hospice providers would be permitted to destroy remaining opioids after a patient dies. Another proposed bill would increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs, and would make it easier for states to share data on opioid use and overdose deaths.

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OxyContin Maker Announces It Will No Longer Market Drug to Doctors


Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, said it will no longer market the drug to doctors. The announcement comes in response to lawsuits that blame the company for helping to trigger the opioid crisis, CBS News reports. The company said it has eliminated more than half its sales staff, and will no longer send sales representatives to doctors’ offices to talk about opioid medications. OxyContin is the world’s top-selling opioid painkiller. Purdue, along with pharmaceutical distributors and other companies that make opioids, are defending themselves against hundreds of state and local lawsuits that aim to hold the drug industry accountable for the opioid epidemic, the article notes. The lawsuits are seeking money and changes to how the industry operates.

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Opioid Crisis in U.S. Has Cost More Than $1 Trillion: Report


The cost of the nation’s opioid crisis exceeded $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017, a new report concludes. The epidemic may cost an additional $500 billion by 2020. The findings come from Altarum, a nonprofit health research and consulting institute. The greatest cost of the opioid crisis comes from lost earnings and productivity losses to employers, NPR reports. Other costs come from lost tax revenue due to early deaths and substance use disorders. Emergency room visits, ambulance costs and the use of naloxone also have contributed to the increase in costs, the report notes. Opioid-related expenses are rising in part because more young people are being affected. “The average age at which opioid deaths are occurring — you’re looking at something in the late 30s or early 40s,” said Corey Rhyan, a senior research analyst with Altarum’s Center for Value and Health Care. “As a result, you’re looking at people that...

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Opioid Public Health Emergency Renewed for Another 90 Days


The Trump Administration renewed the order declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency on January 22, a day before the 90-day mandate was set to expire, ABC News reports. The Department of Health and Human Services has not said whether the public health emergency will be renewed every 90 days, the article notes. In October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The order waives regulations and gives states more flexibility in how they use federal funds to combat the crisis. Under a public health emergency, states could temporarily shift federal grant funds from a wide range of public health issues—such as HIV, diabetes and maternal care—to fund opioid treatment programs. A public health emergency is not as sweeping as a national emergency, which would give the president even more power to waive privacy laws and Medicaid regulations, the article notes.

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Aetna Will Waive Co-Pay for Narcan for Some Customers


The health insurance company Aetna said it will waive co-pays for the opioid overdose antidote Narcan (naloxone) starting in January, CNN Money reports. “Aetna is committed to addressing the opioid crisis through prevention, intervention and treatment,” Harold L. Paz, MD, MS, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Aetna said in a news release. “Increasing access to Narcan can save lives so that individuals with opioid abuse disorder can live long enough to get into evidence-based treatment.” According to research from the company that makes Narcan, almost 35 percent of Aetna members prescribed the drug between January to June 2017 did not pick up their prescription. Members are less likely to fill Narcan prescriptions as co-pays increase. “Cost is clearly a factor in whether individuals with substance abuse disorder obtain medication that could save them from a fatal overdose,” Paz said. “By eliminating this barrier, we hope to keep our...

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Millennials and Baby Boomers Hardest Hit by Opioid Epidemic


Millennials and Baby Boomers appear to be the age groups hardest hit by the opioid crisis, doctors at Columbia University conclude. Millennials (people in their 20s and 30s) have higher death rates from heroin than other age groups, while Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) have higher rates of death from both prescription opioids and heroin, the researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health. The study found Baby Boomers were up to 27 percent more likely to die of a prescription opioid overdose, compared with people born in the late 1970s, HealthDay reports. They were up to one-third more likely to die of a heroin overdose. Millennials were 23 percent more likely to die of a heroin overdose compared with those born in the late 1970s.

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Some Experts Question Opioid Commission’s Marijuana Warning


The chair of President Trump’s Opioid Commission warned about the dangers of marijuana, in a letter accompanying the release of the commission’s final report. Some experts are questioning the commission’s view that marijuana could further fuel the opioid crisis. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the chair of the commission, warned against legalizing marijuana in the midst of the opioid epidemic. One researcher, Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, a professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told CNN she is surprised to see negative language about marijuana in the opioid report. “Research that examines pain and marijuana shows that marijuana use significantly reduces pain,” she said. “In addition, the majority of studies examining marijuana and opioids show that marijuana use is associated with less opioid use and less opioid-related deaths.” Dr. Cunningham is conducting the first long-term study to test whether medical marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain,...

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