Opioid addiction has become serious enough nationally that when the association for the nation’s governors had the president’s ear earlier this week, it was the main topic of discussion. And the group isn’t alone in discussing the crisis.
With opioid addiction becoming increasingly common nationwide, it makes sense that associations in the medical world want to rein in the problem. But what may be surprising is the strong support those groups are receiving from a key political organization.
This past weekend, the problem took center stage at the winter convention of the National Governors Association in Washington, DC, where governors on both sides of the political aisle—Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin—called for action on the issue of opioid addiction. In reporting on the event, The New York Times described the bipartisan discussion as something that “unexpectedly dominated” the association’s meeting.
Opioids generally take two main forms: commonly prescribed prescription drugs, such as Vicodin and Percocet; and illicit drugs, such as heroin. The governors pitched ideas, including limits on how many prescriptions would be made available for pain medications. The issue came up again later, when the governors met with President Obama.
“Let’s figure it out,” Shumlin said, according to a news release from his office. “Let’s come up with a suggested list of protocols, and as governors let’s drive them through our states.”
Other associations spoke up on the opioid issue at the time of the NGA event, including the following:
AMA stands with governors: A joint letter released Monday by American Medical Association Chair-Elect Patrice A. Harris and members of NGA emphasized steps that the medical industry could take to better educate doctors on opioid treatment, as well as improve the handling of substance abuse in the medical sphere. “It is time to put an end to this epidemic’s hold on our country. Many states have already taken steps, and many physicians and medical societies have partnered in those efforts. But collectively, we must do more,” the letter stated.
Blue Cross Blue Shield steps in: The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, one of the country’s largest health insurance organizations, last week announced an initiative to deal with the impact of opioid abuse on local communities and how Blue Cross Blue Shield providers can help prevent addiction. BCBSA hopes to use its data to better research the depths of the issue and use its reach to build new prevention campaigns, including the funding of a documentary. “Because we have developed such deep ties in every community in America, we know firsthand the devastating toll addiction can have on neighborhoods and families,” said President and CEO Scott Serota in a statement. “Many BCBS companies already have programs in place that are helping families and communities cope with this epidemic. We are committed to increasing national awareness of this problem and helping to develop solutions that can be implemented state by state and nationwide.”
National Council sees a perception shift: The push by NGA isn’t the only progress being made on this issue, notes Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. Rosenberg says that other moves—including a funding push by President Obama and a recent series in The New York Times—have done the same. And they reflect a significant improvement of how government officials understand the issue, she notes. “What these all have in common is a shift from treating addiction as an acute disorder to an understanding that this often chronic condition requires more than an inpatient stay. Addictions require an array of longer-term, sometimes even lifetime, community treatments and supports,” Rosenberg wrote in a blog post last week.