The American Medical Association Opioid Task Force believes barriers need to be removed for evidence-based treatments.
A new report from the American Medical Association (AMA) Opioid Task Force reveals, in the past five years, there has been a significant decrease in the use of prescription opioids and in opioid-induced overdose deaths. Yet, there has been a significant increase in fatalities involving illicit opioids and stimulants. The group found that while the “medical community has made some important progress against the opioid epidemic, with a 37% reduction in opioid prescribing since 2013, illicit drugs are now the dominant reason why drug overdoses kill more than 70,000 people each year.”
The task force is now asking for the removal of barriers to evidence-based preferred care for patients who have chronic pain and for those who have substance use disorders (SUDs). The report suggests “red tape and misguided policies are grave dangers to these patients.”
“It is critically important as we see drug overdoses increasing that we work towards reducing barriers of care for substance use abusers,” Task Force Chair Patrice A. Harris, MD, said. “At present, the status quo is killing far too many of our loved ones and wreaking havoc in our communities.”
Harris added that “a more coordinated/integrated approach is needed to help individuals with SUDs…It is vitally important that these individuals can get access to treatment. Everyone deserves the opportunity for care.”
Included in the AMA’s findings are figures pulled from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing the following trends from the start of 2015 to the end of 2019: “Deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogues increased from 5766 to 36,509; Deaths involving stimulants such as methamphetamine increased from 4402 to 16,279; Deaths involving cocaine increased from 5496 to 15,974; Deaths involving heroin increased from 10,788 to 14,079; Deaths involving prescription opioids decreased from 12,269 to 11,904.”
The AMA reports 1.8 million medical providers and healthcare workers now participate in drug monitoring program registrations designed to decrease the risk of overprescribing, and more physicians are now certified to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) as well.
“More than 85,000 physicians, as well as a growing number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants, are now certified to treat patients in the office with buprenorphine. This represents an increase of more than 50,000 from 2017,” the report reveals.
Harris said, “We have made some good progress, but we can’t declare victory, and there are far too many barriers to getting treatment for substance use disorder. Policymakers, public health officials, and insurance companies need to come together to create a system where there are no barriers to care for people with substance use disorder and for those needing pain medications.”
Harris also explained that some of the red tape and restrictions have been removed to address addiction during the coronavirus and hopes this is a step in the right direction moving forward.
“We need now to look at this carefully and have a conversation about whether these relaxations can be continued. But this would have to be evidence based. Perhaps we can use experience from the COVID-19 period to guide future policy on this,” she said, adding, “We know that ending the drug overdose epidemic will not be easy, but if policymakers allow the status quo to continue, it will be impossible. This is particularly important given concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the drug overdose epidemic. Physicians will continue to do our part. We urge policymakers to do theirs.”