Deaths due to opioids are reaching epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths attributable to overdose on prescription drugs increased from approximately 9,000 in 2001 to nearly 26,000 in 2014. This includes a 3.4-fold increase in opioid-related deaths, to a number of 18,893 in 2014. This has also been accompanied by a 6-fold rise in heroin overdose deaths, as people who cannot afford or otherwise continue to obtain prescription opioids turn to cheaper, more available heroin.
On July 22, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) into law. This represents an achievement for ACP, which advocated for important provisions in the law which were incorporated by the conference committee that ironed out the differences between House and Senate versions.
Some key provisions of the legislation will be to:
- Expand prevention and educational efforts—particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers, and aging populations—to prevent the abuse of methamphetamines, opioids and heroin, and to promote treatment and recovery.
- Expand the availability of naloxone to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help in the reversal of overdoses to save lives.
- Expand resources to identify and treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction disorders promptly by collaborating with criminal justice stakeholders and by providing evidence-based treatment.
- Expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications to keep them out of the hands of our children and adolescents.
- Launch an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and intervention program to expand best practices throughout the country.
- Launch a medication assisted treatment and intervention demonstration program.
- Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion and to help at-risk individuals access services.
The passage of CARA shows that there is still common ground between the two political parties as it passed the House 407 to 5 and the Senate 92 to 2. However, there are limits to the collaboration as funding that would have really bolstered treatment efforts was not included. The final law appropriated $160 million for treatment, although Democrats had asked for up $920 million. Still, as President Obama stated: “Given the scope of this crisis, some action is better than none.”