The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary announced new actions to fight the country’s opioid epidemic.

Some of the new efforts include expanding access to buprenorphine, a proposal to eliminate any potential financial incentive for doctors to prescribe opioids based on patient experience survey questions, and a requirement for Indian Health Service (IHS) prescribers and pharmacists to verify state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) databases before prescribing or dispensing opioids for pain. 

The final rule by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) now allows practitioners with a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for up to 100 patients for a year or more, to now have a waiver to treat up to 275 patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is also proposing to eliminate the HCAPHS survey pain management questions from the hospital payment scoring calculation. Hospitals could continue to utilize these questions to survey patients about their inpatient pain management experience but they would not impact the level of payment the hospitals would receive. 

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The IHS will now require its opioid prescribers and pharmacists to check their state PDMP database before prescribing or dispensing any opioid for >7 days, which will help prevent drug diversion and identify patients who may be misusing opioids. The IHS also announced it would train Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement officers on the use of naloxone and provide a supply of the drug. 

Also, the HHS is initiating over a dozen new studies on opioid misuse and pain treatments and collecting feedback to grow prescriber education and training programs. The department also issued a report and inventory on the ongoing opioid misuse and pain treatment research. 

These actions are part of the HHS Opioid Initiative launched in March 2015, as well as the National Pain Strategy, which is intended to reduce the burden of chronic pain in the U.S.. The Initiative focuses on 3 priorities:

  • Improving opioid practices
  • Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder
  • Increasing the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses 

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