Suboxone.

Obstacles and Advances to Accessing Medication for Opioid Use Disorder

By Marissa Schwartz

Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), sometimes referred to as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), is a life-saving, evidence-based treatment method considered the gold standard for addressing opioid use disorders. Unfortunately, however, there are a number of barriers — both legal and cultural — that prevent some patients from accessing the treatment they need.

MOUD combines the use of prescription medications (like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide comprehensive treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Due to stigma toward MOUD from patients and providers, as well as an overall lack of providers certified to dispense MOUD, there are currently more prescribing rules in the U.S. for the drugs used in MOUD, like buprenorphine, than for opioids. Major legal barriers include provider limits on the number of patients to whom they can offer MOUD, restrictions on which facilities can provide in-patient MOUD treatment, and insurance pre-authorization requirements.

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Large pile of amber prescription pill bottles

How Policy Surveillance Might Help to Counter the Opioid Epidemic

By Erin Napoleon

In 2017, more than 47,000 people had died of an opioid overdose, and 2 million people were dependent on opioids. This astonishing number is attributable in part to the lack of federal and state legislation to curb the over-prescription of opioids.

Opioids first entered the US market in the late 1990s. Pharmaceutical companies’ assured physicians that opioids were less addictive than morphine and posed less dangerous side effects, and doctors began prescribing the pills at unprecedented rates.

Understanding how the dearth of federal and state legislation, coupled with prescribing patterns based on race and socioeconomic status, influence the over-prescription of opioids can potentially lead to new and innovative ways of solving the opioid epidemic that continuously threatens the United States.

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Pile of colorful pills in blister packs

Could Vioxx Make a Comeback? Recalled Drug Receives Orphan Designation

By Blake N. Shultz and Gregory Curfman

Despite a troubling history, rofecoxib (Vioxx) may be making a comeback.

The voluntary withdrawal of rofecoxib (Vioxx) from the market in September 2004 marked the end of a controversial era for a once highly profitable and widely used drug. It also marked the beginning of years of high-profile product-liability litigation that would cost Merck billions.

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Pile of colorful pills in blister packs

Promises and Perils of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: Workshop Report

This piece was part of a symposium featuring commentary from participants in the Center for Health Policy and Law’s annual conference, Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations, held on April 11-12, 2019 at Northeastern University School of Law. The symposium was originally posted through the Northeastern University Law Review Online Forum.

Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations Blog Symposium

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the Center for Health Policy and Law’s annual conference, Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations, held on April 11-12, 2019 at Northeastern University School of Law. As a note, additional detailed analyses of issues discussed during the conference will be published in the upcoming Winter Issue of the Northeastern University Law Review.

Throughout the two-day conference, speakers and attendees discussed how innovations, including artificial intelligence, robotics, mobile technology, gene therapies, pharmaceuticals, big data analytics, tele- and virtual health care delivery, and new models of delivery, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs), retail clinics, and medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), have entered and changed the healthcare market. More dramatic innovations and market disruptions are likely in the years to come. These new technologies and market disruptions offer immense promise to advance health care quality and efficiency, as well as improve provider and patient engagement. Success will depend, however, on careful consideration of potential perils and well-planned interventions to ensure new methods ultimately further, rather than diminish, the health of patients, especially those who are the most vulnerable.

In the final post of the Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations blog symposium, Leo Beletsky and the team from Health in Justice Action Lab provide a summary of an event held in conjunction with the Center for Health Policy and Law’s 2019 annual health law conference. The Promises and Perils of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) workshop was held on April 13, 2019 and convened experts, practitioners, experts, and other stakeholders to brainstorm strategies with the goal to “maximize the benefits of PDMPs, while minimizing harms.” Visit the Health in Justice Action Lab website (linked below) for information on this and other projects underway. 

Promises and Perils of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: Workshop Report

By Health in Justice Action Lab

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hand reaching for blue pills

Author Q&A: Reducing High-Dose Opioid Prescribing

Sara Heins, PhD
Sara Heins, PhD, Associate Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation

From 1999 to 2017, almost 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2017 than in 1999, according to the CDC.

Previous research has indicated that patients who receive higher doses of prescription opioids have an increased risk of overdose and mortality. In response, several states have established Morphine Equivalent Daily Dose (MEDD) thresholds that convert opioid prescriptions to their equivalent dose in morphine and divides the total prescription by the number of days the prescription is intended to last, allowing for comparison among different opioid formulations and strengths. MEDD policies set thresholds for prescribers, which may only be exceeded in limited circumstances, such as when being prescribed to certain patient groups or as short-courses.

Sara Heins, PhD, an associate policy researcher at RAND Corporation, used policy surveillance to track MEDD policies through June 1, 2017 (data are available on LawAtlas.org). She published an article in Pain Medicine on March 13 that describes U.S. MEDD policies.

We asked Dr. Heins a few questions about her work and this recent publication. Read More

Scott Gottleib at a press conference

Commentary: Do We Really Need a New, More Powerful Opioid?

The FDA’s Analgesic and Anesthetic Drug Advisory Committee (AADPAC), of which I am a member, met October 12 to discuss a controversial New Drug Application (NDA) for a powerful opioid called sufentanil, manufactured by AcelRx.

Like fentanyl, sufentanil is a short-acting synthetic opioid, but approximately 5 to 10 times more potent. In the midst of the current opioid crisis, why would anyone think that the availability of another powerful opioid is a good idea?

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pills

What is in America’s Medicine Cabinet? Everything.

 

There were 240 million opioid prescriptions in the U.S. in 2016, a number that accounts for about 30 percent of the world’s opioid prescriptions, and is enough for one opioid prescription for every adult American.

Experts believe the overprescribing of opioids is at least somewhat responsible for the current opioid crisis. This led to a national discussion around prescribing stewardship, as well as the development of policy and regulation with regard to opioid prescribing. Included among this have been limits on the duration of therapy, partial fills, and requirements that providers access their state’s prescription monitoring program before prescribing. These policies have had some success and there has been a decline in the number of opioid prescriptions in the last several years.

This should be good news, but unfortunately, opioids aren’t the only thing filling America’s medicine cabinets. Looking again at 2016, there were more than 190,000 kilos of amphetamines, drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, produced for consumption in the United States. The estimates are that about 16 million adults and more than 3.5 million children are taking these stimulants.

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Simulated Side Effects: FDA Uses Novel Computer Model to Guide Kratom Policy

By Mason Marks

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement on Tuesday about the controversial plant Mitragyna speciosa, which is also known as kratom. According to Gottlieb, kratom poses deadly health risks. His conclusion is partly based on a computer model that was announced in his recent statement. The use of simulations to inform drug policy is a new development with implications that extend beyond the regulation of kratom. We currently live in the Digital Age, a period in which most information is in digital form. However, the Digital Age is rapidly evolving into an Age of Algorithms in which computer software increasingly assumes the roles of human decision makers. The FDA’s use of computer simulations to evaluate drugs is a bold first step into this new era. This essay discusses the potential risks of basing federal drug policies on computer models that have not been thoroughly explained or validated (using the kratom debate as a case study).

Kratom grows naturally in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia where it has been used for centuries as a stimulant and pain reliever. In recent years, the plant has gained popularity in the United States as an alternative to illicit and prescription narcotics. Kratom advocates claim it is harmless and useful for treating pain and easing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, the FDA contends it has no medical use and causes serious or fatal complications. As a result, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) may categorize kratom in Schedule I, its most heavily restricted category.

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Civil Commitment and the Opioid Epidemic: A Call for Research

By Scott Burris, JD

There is a lot of interest in civil commitment these days, as a possible tool to fight two big health problems. As we continue to watch the rates of opioid-related deaths climb, and in the wake of an unfunded emergency declaration by President Trump, some policymakers are looking to involuntarily commit overdose survivors for drug treatment. On the gun violence side, experts like Jeffrey Swanson have argued for applying gun-access restrictions that now cover people subject to long-term civil commitment to those subjected to short-term civil commitment.

With those kinds of ideas in the air, it is important to recognize how little modern data we have on commitment and its effects. In a recent article in the Washington Post discussing commitment for opioid treatment, Michael Stein and Paul Christopher emphasize how little we know. I entirely agree on the need for more research, and offer a couple of things to help.

The first is the Policy Surveillance Program’s LawAtlas dataset that maps civil commitment laws across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If we’re going to examine these laws and their impact, this is the place to start. We also put out the call to anyone interested in studying this to work with us not only to update this data through 2017, but also to make sure we’re mining these laws and their characteristics for the right information in these circumstances — Are we asking the right questions? Read More

The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part I: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Misinterpreted Scientific Studies

By Mason Marks

The opioid crisis kills at least 91 Americans each day and has far-reaching social and economic consequences for us all. As lawmakers explore solutions to the problem, they should ensure that new regulations are based on scientific evidence and reason rather than emotion or political ideology. Though emotions should motivate the creation of policies and legislation, solutions to the opioid epidemic should be grounded in empirical observation rather than feelings of anger, fear, or disgust. Legislators must be unafraid to explore bold solutions to the crisis, and some measured risks should be taken. In this three-part series on evidence-backed solutions to the opioid crisis, I discuss proposals under consideration by the Trump Administration including recent recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Though the Commission made some justifiable proposals, it misinterpreted the conclusions of scientific studies and failed to consider evidence-based solutions used in other countries. This first part of the series focuses on the misinterpretation of scientific data.

Last year more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is “now the leading cause of death” in people under 50. Opioids are responsible for most of these deaths. By comparison, the National Safety Council estimates about 40,000 Americans died in auto crashes last year, and the Centers for Disease Control reports that 38,000 people were killed by firearms. Unlike deaths due to cars and firearms, which have remained relatively stable over the past few years, opioid deaths have spiked abruptly. Between 2002 and 2015, U.S. opioid-related deaths nearly tripled (from about 12,000 deaths in 2002 to over 33,000 in 2015). Last year, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl contributed to over 20,000 deaths and accounted for the sharpest increase in opioid fatalities (See blue line in Fig. 1 below). Read More