At the National Policy & Advocacy Summit on Biologics and Biosimilars, held in Washington, DC, on April 17, Congressman Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Georgia, discussed the burden of the opioid epidemic, addressed the stigma surrounding addiction, and highlighted initiatives being taken to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and identify fraudulent prescriptions.
At the National Policy & Advocacy Summit on Biologics and Biosimilars, held in Washington, DC, on April 17, Congressman Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Georgia, the only practicing pharmacist serving in Congress, addressed the burden of the opioid addiction and highlighted several initiatives to tackle the epidemic.
Carter began by deeming the opioid epidemic a national emergency, citing that 115 people die everyday in the United States from the epidemic. However, the number is likely higher than that, because there are many who won’t disclose drug abuse due to the stigma surrounding addiction, said Carter.
“Right now, we’ve got over 2.5 million people who are addicted to opioids. We’ve got to do something about that,” said Carter. “I suspect everyone in the room knows someone or has a family member who’s struggled with this. No one is immune to this; it impacts everyone. We have to get over that stigma and make sure we understand people have problems and that they need help with this.”
Carter described the epidemic as a 2-fold issue, the first being the amount of prescriptions written and pills being dispensed. This is the more tangible and more controllable component, said Carter. He pointed out a large gap in options for pain management, explaining that treatment options jump from ibuprofen to opioids. “In my mind, there’s a big void there, and the manufacturers need to fill in that void,” said Carter.
The second component is the 2.5 million people who are struggling with addiction and identifying how to successfully address that. To do this, we can’t just focus on throwing money into a budget, we also have to identify which programs work best in aiding the epidemic, said Carter. He explained that there are a number of bills being introduced to tackle the epidemic, including some he has helped put forward.
One bill aims to increase medication-assisted treatment access in rural America. Currently, a physician cannot prescribe a patient a controlled substance through the internet without having an in-person consultation first, creating a particular barrier for those in rural areas that have less access to a physician than their urban counterparts. The legislation, "Special Registration for Telemedicine Clarification Act," instructs the attorney general to take necessary steps to allow for the prescribing of medication-assisted treatment through telemedicine. In December, the FDA approved an injectable form of the drug buprenorphine for the treatment of moderate-to-severe opioid use disorder, making it 1 of 3 drugs approved for the medication-assisted treatment of opioid addition.
The “Empowering Pharmacists in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse Act" will assist pharmacists in detecting fraudulent or forged prescriptions, said Carter. The legislation would develop training programs and materials on the circumstances in which a pharmacist can refuse to fill a controlled substance prescription suspected to be fraudulent, forged, or indicative of abuse or diversion.
“As a practicing pharmacist, I can tell you: the only thing worse for me than filling a prescription for someone who is going to divert that prescription or abuse that prescription is not filling the prescription for someone who truly needs it,” said Carter.
As the opioid epidemic continues to persist in the United States, initiatives nationwide have been taken to try to combat the public health emergency. Earlier this month, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD, issued a call for more people to carry naloxone to counteract opioid overdoses. Others have underscored the importance of collaboration and care coordination. A symposium at Seton Hall Law School in February put emphasis on a multi-pronged approach in helping those with substance use disorder through a continuum of care that puts the patient in touch with medical and social services, a case manager, a place to stay, and a recovery coach.