An Urgent Letter on the Opioid Epidemic

Medical Staff Seated In Circle At Case Meeting

(DGIwire) – About half of opioid overdose deaths involve prescription drugs, reports The New York Times. With this fact in mind, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, sent an unusually direct plea in August 2016 to 2.3 million doctors and other healthcare workers to help fight the opioid epidemic by treating pain “safely and effectively.” According to TIME magazine, Murthy points out in the letter that overdose deaths from opioids have quadrupled since 1999, and prescriptions for powerful painkillers have risen to the point that there is enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.

One form of therapy that has been widely seen as effective for those with opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the goal of MAT is to combine behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that MAT has been shown to increase treatment retention and to reduce opioid use, related risk behaviors that transmit HIV and hepatitis C virus, recidivism and mortality.

A key component to MAT is prescription buprenorphine. However, until mid-2016, there was a strict cap in place: qualified U.S. doctors were allowed to treat up to 100 patients per year with the drug. Now that cap has been loosened: in July 2016, in an effort to expand treatment for opioid addiction, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would allow doctors to prescribe buprenorphine to 275 patients at a time and that rule went into effect in August 2016.

“A variety of prescribing options for buprenorphine are currently available,” says Dr. Mark Sirgo, President and CEO of BioDelivery Sciences. “These include an approved formulation with a buccal (inside the cheek) administration—the first such formulation to be approved.”

The Attorney General’s drive to engage doctors more directly in the fight against opioid addiction is being matched by innovations in drug delivery that can play a role in the fight as well.