A Record 1,914 Ohioans Died of Drug Overdose in 2012; Drug Overdose Now Kills More Americans than Car Accidents
Bill Would Remove Federal Limitations on Treatment Which Contribute to Low Treatment Rate—Less Than 40 Percent—for Those Addicted to Opioids
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With a record 1,914 Ohioans dying from drug overdose in 2012, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference call to announce a plan that would help fight the scourge of opiate abuse wreaking havoc in all areas of the country—rural, urban, and suburban. Opioid overdose, including death from prescription pain relievers and heroin, has increased dramatically in the United States. One of the culprits is the lack of treatment available to users and addicts. Brown announced that he is an original cosponsor of The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT Act), legislation that would change U.S. law to enable more health care providers to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction.
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“Americans all across the country have been affected by the growing public health crisis caused by opioid use,” Brown said. “This is a complex scourge that requires a multi-pronged solution. We’ve got a problem when it’s easier for Americans to get heroin than it is for them to get help to break their addiction. That is why we must give patients greater access to drug addiction treatment in the outpatient setting. The TREAT Act would accomplish this by enabling more health care providers to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction to opioids such as oxycodone and heroin. This will help save lives while simultaneously saving our hospital system money and reducing drug-related crimes.”
Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that, when left untreated, places a large burden on the healthcare system. Deaths from opioid overdose in the United States has increased by more than five times since 1980. Today, drug overdoses claim more lives than car accidents. In Ohio alone, a record 1,914 citizens, or five people per day, died from unintentional drug-overdose in 2012. Two thirds of these overdoses involved opioids. Each year, about 475,000 emergency room visits are attributable to the misuse and abuse of opioid pain killers across the U.S.
Federal law currently limits the capacity for physicians and other health care providers to treat opioid abuse. Under current law, physicians must meet specific conditions and apply for a special waiver in order to be authorized to prescribe certain opioid addiction medicines, like buprenorphine. Further, physicians are legally disallowed from treating more than 30 patients during their first year with a waiver, and are restricted to treating only 100 patients per year afterwards. This has led to long waitlists for treatment and has made it more difficult for patients to receive the treatment they need.
As a result, of the approximately 2.5 million Americans who abused or were dependent on opioids in 2012, fewer than 40 percent received medication-assisted therapy for their condition. To help solve this problem, the TREAT Act would increase the number of patients that providers are allowed to treat in an outpatient setting; and, for the first time, allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat addicted patients. Specifically, this legislation would:
Increase the number of patients a provider is initially allowed to treat from 30 patients to 100 patients per year during their first year of certification for treatment.
Allow physicians, after one year, to request removal of the limit on the number of patients they can treat. To be eligible:
Physicians must be substance abuse treatment specialists, as recognized by specific board or society certifications, or
Non-specialist physicians must complete approved training and practice in a “qualified practice setting.”
“Qualified practice settings” are named in the legislation and include clinical settings that have defined oversight, performance metrics, or quality review, or that are part of systems serving populations with high need.
Allow certain nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat up to 100 patients per year, provided they:
Are licensed in a state that already allows them to prescribe controlled substances (like Ohio),
Complete approved training on opioid addiction treatment, and
Are supervised by a physician who is approved to prescribe opioid addiction medicine, such as buprenorphine.
Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine changes in treatment availability and utilization; quality of treatment programs; integration with routine healthcare services; diversion; impact on state level policies and legislation; and use of nurse practitioner and physician assistant prescribers.
Taking these actions could help save lives, save our hospital systems money, and reduce drug-related crimes. Immediately following the call, Brown released county by county data depicting Ohio’s unintentional drug overdose deaths between 2007 and 2012. Joining Brown to urge for passage of this legislation was Dr. Mark Piacentini, a Marion County physician who treats drug abusers but, under current law, is limited to treating only 100 patients at a time. With hundreds more needing immediate assistance in Marion County, the TREAT Act would give Dr. Piacentini and his colleagues the ability to see more patients.
“The U.S. is in the middle of a national pain pill/heroin epidemic,” said Jeffrey Goldsmith, an Ohioan and President Elect of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Many addicted people don’t have access to treatment. Opiate addiction is a long term illness, not a short term crisis; and over 10,000 people each year die from accidental overdoses. We need to increase access to research effective treatment. TREAT addresses the barriers to treatment in a safe efficient manner.”
Brown continues to fight for the health of Ohioans by targeting the growing problem of drug abuse through efforts to shutter pill mills, monitor physicians whose prescribing patterns are outside the norm, and end the practices of “doctor shopping” and “pharmacy hopping.” In 2012, Brown introduced the Stop Trafficking of Pills (STOP) Act, legislation that would have helped crack down on the misuse, overuse, and trafficking of prescription drugs.