Suboxone.

Eliminating Barriers to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

By Jennifer D. Oliva, Taleed El-Sabawi, and Shelly Weizman

The tragedy of the ever-worsening drug poisoning and overdose crisis in the United States is compounded by a simple fact: We know how to prevent overdose deaths, and yet, the overwhelming majority of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) lack access to the lifesaving, standard of care treatment.

Research demonstrates that the opioid agonist medications methadone and buprenorphine are the safest and most effective treatments for OUD. As the National Academy of Sciences explained in a 2019 report, these two medications reduce risk of death by up to 50 percent and are associated with numerous other benefits, including improved quality of life, reduced rates of use of other opioids, and reduced risk of contracting illnesses including HIV and hepatitis C.

However, during the worst drug poisoning crisis in U.S. history, which is now killing more than 100,000 people a year, the country’s outdated and restrictive federal regulatory schemes that pertain to methadone and buprenorphine present a pernicious and persistent barrier to accessing OUD medications.

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Woman sitting at desk experiencing back pain.

Can Lawyers Help Fix Back Pain (No, Not By Suing)?

By Jack Becker

A Pain in the Back

Back pain is a real pain in the back. Comprehensive data is tough to collect, but an estimated 60-80% of people will have to deal with back pain at some point in their life. Lower back pain, in particular, is the leading cause of global disability.

This issue has serious impacts beyond individual pain and suffering. According to a 2018 report by the Bone and Joint Initiative, Americans lost 264 million work days in a single year due to back pain. The report also claims that in 2014, the direct and indirect costs of musculoskeletal disorders were a staggering 5.76% of U.S. GDP, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. While more conservative estimates put the costs closer to $125 billion, the impact is significant.

There are clear incentives for business or government actors to intervene, but where can they start? One option is to let lawyers lead the way.

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Police car.

New Data Highlights Complexity of Good Samaritan Overdose Law Landscape

By David Momjian

Since 1999, over 800,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the United States, with more than half of those deaths (500,000) resulting from opioid overdose.

Additionally, all 50 states have experienced a spike in overdose deaths in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 12-month period ending in May 2020, 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States; the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

To combat the rising death toll from drug overdoses, 47 state legislatures and the District of Columbia have passed Good Samaritan laws (GSLs) to protect bystanders from criminal prosecution if they call for medical assistance during a drug overdose. Bystanders to a drug overdose are often worried that by calling for help, they could be arrested for drug possession or evicted by the police, who often arrive first at the scene of a 911 call, even if it is a medical emergency.

A new dataset built by the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and funded by Vital Strategies, covers the evolution of GSLs in the United States from January 1, 2007, to June 1, 2021.

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Hundred dollar bills rolled up in a pill bottle

To Address the Overdose Epidemic, Tackle Pharma Industry Influence

By Liza Vertinsky

A recently released government report estimates that 93,000 people died from drug overdose in 2020. This estimate reflects a jump in the death toll of almost 30% from 2019 to 2020, with opioids as a primary driver.

In response, President Biden has called for historic levels of funding for the treatment and prevention of addiction and drug overdose.

Transforming mental health and addiction services is a critical part of tackling the overdose crisis, but it is not enough, on its own, to address this epidemic, or to prevent a future one. We must also alter the conditions that fueled expanded use, and abuse, in the first place. As I argue in Pharmaceutical (Re)capture, a forthcoming article in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics, this includes a change in how we regulate markets for prescription drugs.

To truly combat the epidemic, I suggest, we have to understand how pain became such a lucrative business and how regulators failed to protect the public health as the market for prescription opioids grew. Then, we need to put this understanding to work in the redesign of pharmaceutical regulation.

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New York, NY/USA - 08.31.2018: Overdose Awareness March.

Advancing a Public Health-Promoting National Opioid Policy

Register to attend “Addressing the Overdose Epidemic: Substance Use Policy for the Biden Administration” on March 24th.

By Jennifer D. Oliva & Kelly K. Dineen

“America’s drug regime is a monstrous, incoherent mess.”
– Dr. Carl L. Hart, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear (2021)

By any measure, American drug policy is an ineffective and costly failure.

The U.S. drug policy regime’s defining quality is its persistent adherence to the same approaches in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are unsuccessful, including supply-side tactics, fear mongering, and misinformation dissemination. These policies are racist by design and their myriad, negative impacts are disproportionately borne by marginalized and stigmatized communities.

The “war on drugs” and its repeated loop of lost battles have earned the nation the highest incarceration rate in the world, fomented a number of serious health issues related to drug use, and fueled a drug overdose and suicide crisis. Our shape-shifting overdose crisis recently claimed the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded during a twelve-month period in American history.

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New York, NY/USA - 08.31.2018: Overdose Awareness March

Bold Steps Needed to Correct Course in US Drug Policies

By Leo Beletsky, Dan Werb, Ayden Scheim, Jeanette Bowles, David Lucas, Nazlee Maghsoudi, and Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

The accelerating trajectory of the overdose crisis is an indictment of the legal and policy interventions deployed to address it. Indeed, at the same time as the U.S. has pursued some of the most draconian drug policies in the world, it has experienced one of the worst drug crises in its history.

The legal and institutional system of U.S. drug control remains defined by its racist, xenophobic, and colonialist roots. It is no surprise, then, that current policy approaches to drug use have amplified inequities across minoritized and economically marginalized Americans. Reliance on the criminal-legal system and supply-side interventions have disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities, while failing to prevent drug-related harms on the population level.

The Biden-Harris Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to chart a different path. The priorities for the Administration’s approach should flow directly from its stated principles: emphasis on scientific evidence and a focus on equity.

The following key areas require immediate, bold, and evidence-grounded action.

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Pill bottles.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Opioid Epidemic Continues

By Laura Karas

“The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,

As he swung toward them holding up the hand

Half in appeal, but half as if to keep

The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—

Since he was old enough to know, big boy

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—

He saw all spoiled. . . .

He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.

And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

This except from Robert Frost’s 1916 poem “Out, Out—,” which portrays the sudden death of a young boy after a woodcutting accident and the onlookers’ casual acceptance of his tragic death, is particularly apropos today, more than one hundred years later, in an America that looks very different than that of Frost’s time. Between the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, America now suffers from a surplus of needless, untimely deaths.

Just as the protagonist of Frost’s poem became the casualty of a tragic accident, so too do the many victims of the opioid epidemic become casualties in a losing battle — lives “spoiled” by substance use disorder and cut short by tragic overdose. In this post I explore the status of the opioid epidemic in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing initiatives to address opioid use disorder (OUD).

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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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