Opioid public health emergency declaration falls short of needed prevention efforts

On Oct. 26, the president declared the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency. In choosing not to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, the president prevented states from accessing the federal Disaster Relief Fund for prevention and treatment efforts.  The president outlined his administration’s plans to prevent opioid overdoses  — including improvements to prescribing guidelines, substance abuse campaigns and the use of law enforcement — but according to public health leaders, his plans fall short of the comprehensive effort that is needed to fully address the crisis.

Opioid prescribing guidelines

In his remarks, the president said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will “launch a taskforce to develop and update best practices for pain management across the federal government.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already taken steps to revise opioid prescribing guidelines, releasing its most updated guidelines in March 2016. But research from Boston University shows that best practices can also be improved by educating clinicians about opioid use and improving adherence to prescribing guidelines.

At a Senate briefing titled, “Intersection of substance abuse, injury and violence,” director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Deborah Houry noted that CDC is working with medical and nursing schools to include curricula on the addictive nature of opioids and how to safely prescribe them. A comprehensive plan to beat back the opioid crisis would expand these efforts and provide workshops and educational tools for clinicians.

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