Viewpoint: Opioid treatment calls for more than just new drugs

Action is needed to tackle the ever-growing problem of opioid addiction, but the National Institutes of Health's initiative to combat the epidemic won't address its complex root causes, contends an anonymous editorial in Nature.

Here are seven things you need to know:

1. There were roughly 53,000 deaths attributed to opioid overdoses in 2016, with cases more than doubling from 2010.

2. Congress is considering 57 bills relating to opioids, due to the increased numbers of overdose-related deaths.  

3. Congress diverted $4.6 billion toward combating the opioid epidemic this year, including an extra $500 million to the National Institutes of Health for its Helping to End Addiction Long-Term initiative..

4. HEAL aims to improve treatments for addiction and overdose while also improving pain management. However, the editorial author is skeptical of HEAL due to "some questionable priorities."

5. The author commends the NIH's plan to spend 20 percent of HEAL funding for better screening for addiction in patients and $10 million on improved addiction therapies for babies who are born addicted to opioids. An additional $29 million will be spent expanding and improving clinical trials for drug-related therapies.

6. However, the author argues a large portion of HEAL's budget will go toward drug development, which is "a less essential investment" because overdose drugs and nonopioid painkillers are already effective. Instead, the lack of access and lack of understanding of chronic pain should be addressed, the author writes.

7.Ultimately, the author says HEAL will alleviate the symptoms of the opioid epidemic by helping those who are already addicted, but won't puncture the roots, which are "a complex tangle of social and political issues including economic disparities, lack of access to comprehensive healthcare and mental health services, outdated policies banning evidence-based initiatives such as local safe-injection facilities, a proliferation of deadly synthetic drugs, and poor prescribing practices by physicians." Funding, public health initiatives and enforcement of public health policies are necessary to truly cure the opioid epidemic, the author concludes.   

More articles on opioids: 

New data shows increase in opioid overdoses all over Philadelphia
Opioid overdose deaths sending record number of children into foster care
IV Tylenol no longer seen as the solution to ending the opioid epidemic

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