Health IT Now, a broad-based coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers and payers supporting health information technology to improve patient outcomes, called for both the Trump Administration and Congress to use “every tool at their disposal to fight the opioid crisis.” Health IT Now is calling for policy changes to prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) and reforms to the 42 CFR Part 2 regulation.
President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he was directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency in response to the rapidly escalating epidemic of drug use in the U.S. However, the announcement falls short of Trump’s earlier promises to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. According to reporting by The New York Times, declaring a national emergency on opioids would have prompted the rapid allocation of federal funding to address the issue. “The directive does not on its own release any money to deal with a drug crisis that has become a grim reality across the country, claiming more than 59,000 lives in 2016,” New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfield Davis wrote.
The directive does allow some grant money to be used for efforts to combat opioid abuse and would ease certain laws and regulations to address it.
The New York Times article quotes President Trump during the announcement in the White House East Room, “No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids. This epidemic is a national health emergency.” The ceremony at the White House was attended by families affected by opioid abuse, members of Congress and administration officials
“We cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said, according to the NYT reporting.
As previously reported by Healthcare Informatics, the declaration of a nationwide public health emergency allows for expanded access to telemedicine services, including services involving remote prescribing of medicine commonly used for substance abuse or mental health treatment.
In a statement responding to President Trump’s declaration of the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White stated that while the provisions in the president’s directive expanding access to treatment via telehealth are a welcome and laudable reform, “we believe the administration should take additional steps to leverage technology to fight back the tide of this epidemic.
“This includes policies to allow for fully interoperable prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) with real-time updates that will be queried at both the doctor's office and the pharmacy counter, in order to stop opioid abuse before it occurs. We also believe Congress should reform the overly-broad federal regulation known as 42 CFR Part 2 that has prevented providers from knowing critical, relevant information about a patient's past addiction. We are committed to being part of the solution to this national emergency that has gone on for too long,” White said in the statement.
According to the New York Times article, “Trump Administration officials argued on Thursday that a national emergency declaration was not necessary or helpful in the case of the opioid crisis, and that the powers associated with a public health emergency were better suited to address the issue. The Trump administration, they said, would work with Congress to secure money to combat opioids in a year-end spending package, including through the Public Health Emergency Fund.”
The Trump Administration also highlighted a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the drug addiction and opioid crisis. The CDC has launched the Prescription Awareness Campaign, a multimedia awareness campaign featuring the real-life stories of people who have lost loved ones to prescription opioid overdose and people in recovery. The Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Health and Human Services are collaborating on a six-year, $81 million joint research partnership focusing on nondrug approaches to managing pain in order to address the needs of service members and veterans.