Veterans Especially Hard Hit by Opioid Epidemic

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The opioid epidemic has taken an especially heavy toll on U.S. veterans, Reuters reports. Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of opioid painkillers. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at the highest risk of opioid addiction, federal data indicates. Senator John McCain has sponsored the Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, which would fund research to help Veterans Administration (VA) doctors rely less on opioids in treating chronic pain. The bill is stalled in Congress, the article notes. “The Veterans Administration needs to understand whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid painkillers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths,” said McCain, a Vietnam veteran. The VA system has treated 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction since March, according to a department spokesman. The Louis Stokes VA Center in Cleveland has started testing alternative treatments, including acupuncture and yoga, to reduce use of and dependency...
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Long-Acting and Daily Medications to Treat Opioid Addiction Found Equally Effective

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A new study finds a long-acting medication and a short-term drug that must be taken daily are equally effective in treating opioid addiction. Researchers at NYU Langone Health found extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol) was as safe and effective as more commonly prescribed buprenorphine-naloxone (Suboxone) in curtailing opioid use, relapse, treatment drop-out, and overdose. The study, which was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was published in The Lancet. The study is the first major head-to-head comparison of the treatments, according to The Washington Post. Researchers found each treatment had disadvantages. Short-acting medicines must be taken daily for years or even a lifetime. Naltrexone, which is given as a monthly injection, cannot be started until a person is fully detoxified from opioids—which more than 25 percent of the study subjects failed to do. More than half of the study subjects relapsed at least once, regardless of which treatment they received....
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FDA Encourages Use of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will encourage widespread use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, the agency’s commissioner said recently. The FDA has approved three medication-assisted treatment drugs: buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. A report issued last year by Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that medication-assisted treatment is the most effective way to deal with opioid use disorder. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, appearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said, “Unfortunately, far too few people who are addicted to opioids are offered an adequate chance for treatment that uses medications. In part, this is because insurance coverage for treatment with medications is often inadequate.” In his remarks, Gottlieb noted that some people may need medication-assisted treatment for years, if not for their entire lives. He said the FDA will issue guidance to drug manufacturers to promote the development of new addiction treatments, The Washington Post reports.
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FDA: Don’t Mix Opioid Addiction Medication with Anti-Anxiety Drugs

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a new warning about mixing medication to treat opioid addiction with anti-anxiety drugs. Both types of drugs slow breathing and brain activity. Combining opioid addiction medications with anti-anxiety drugs can lead to difficulty breathing, coma or death, the agency said. In addition to anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium and Xanax, other drugs that should not be combined with opioid addiction medication include Ambien and Lunesta for insomnia, muscle relaxers Soma and Zanaflex, and antipsychotic drugs Abilify, Invega, and Saphris, the Associated Press reports. Buprenorphine and methadone, also known as medication-assisted treatment, reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal without producing a high. The FDA is requiring changes to medication-assisted treatment drug labels. The new labels recommend that health care providers develop a treatment plan that closely monitors any simultaneous use of these drugs.
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Survey Finds Many Doctors Underprescribing Buprenorphine

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Doctors are underprescribing the opioid addiction medicine buprenorphine, according to a new survey of addiction specialists. Buprenorphine can be used to treat opioid addiction in the privacy of a doctor’s office. Doctors who prescribe the medication must have a waiver allowing them to do so. Until recently, doctors with waivers could prescribe buprenorphine to 100 patients. This year, the cap was raised to 275, HealthDay reports. More than half of the doctors with a waiver said they were not currently prescribing the buprenorphine to capacity, according to the survey, which was presented at the American Psychological Association annual meeting. Doctors who have a waiver but are not using it to capacity said they regularly turn away one to three patients a month who approach them for buprenorphine treatment.
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Justice Department Announces Program to Combat Opioid-Related Health Care Fraud

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a program aimed at combating opioid-related health care fraud, the Associated Press reports. Twelve federal prosecutors will be sent to cities hit hard by opioid addiction. They will analyze data to identify and prosecute individuals that are contributing to the prescription opioid epidemic, Sessions said. They will aim to find “pill mills” and track down physicians and pharmacies that illegally prescribe or distribute opioid painkillers. In a statement, Sessions said the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit “can tell us important information about prescription opioids—like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.”
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Foster Care Systems Overwhelmed by Opioid Crisis

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Foster-care systems throughout the United States are being overwhelmed by children whose parents are addicted to opioids, according to The Washington Post . The problem is most acute in rural areas. “It’s pretty much every state — except maybe four or five — that have seen an increase in the number of children in foster care,” said John Sciamanna, Vice President of Public Policy at the Child Welfare League of America. “What you are seeing now is just a straining of the system.” In 2012 there were 397,000 children in foster care. By 2015, there were 428,000 children – an increase of 8 percent. Experts say since then, the number has increased dramatically, although concrete numbers are not yet available. The increase in foster children is stretching state budgets, the article notes. There are not enough families willing to take in foster children, and the caseloads of social workers are...
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Opioid Addiction Rose Fivefold from 2010 to 2016

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The number of people covered by the health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield who were diagnosed with an opioid addiction rose almost 500 percent from 2010 to 2016, CNN reports. The findings, from a study by the insurer, found few patients receive any treatment for their addiction. During the study period, there was only a 65 percent increase in the number of patients who received medication-assisted treatment for their addiction. The study found states that have experienced the greatest growth in the use of medication-assisted treatments are not necessarily the areas most impacted by opioid use disorders. High rates of treatment relative to opioid use disorder occur in New England and lower rates occur in the South and parts of the Midwest. Among those 45 and older, women have a higher rate of opioid use disorder than do men, according to the study. Among people younger than 45, men have...
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Few Young People Treated for Opioid Addiction Get MAT

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Only 27 percent of youths treated for opioid addiction receive buprenorphine or naltrexone, known as medication-assisted treatment, a new study finds. “These medications are considered the evidence-based standard of care for opioid addiction by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” said lead researcher Dr. Scott Hadland of Boston University School of Medicine. Buprenorphine (sold as Suboxone) has been shown to reduce cravings, while naltrexone (sold as Revia and Vivitrol) blocks the high from opioids, HealthDay reports. The rate of opioid addiction among teens and young adults shot up almost sixfold between 2001 and 2014, the researchers note in JAMA Pediatrics . Hadland said one reason so few young people receive medication-assisted treatment is that too few pediatricians and family doctors are trained in how to treat opioid addiction. “In light of the national opioid crisis, it’s really now more important than ever to ensure that providers are receiving the training,” he...
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Drug Overdose Deaths Rose 19 Percent in 2016

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Drug overdose deaths increased 19 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a preliminary analysis of data by The New York Times . Evidence suggests the problem, driven by opioid addiction, has continued to worsen this year. An influx of fentanyl and similar drugs is escalating the death count. Drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50, the article notes. Large increases in drug overdose deaths were seen last year in Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine. In Ohio, overdose deaths rose by more than 25 percent. The New York Times came up with its estimate based on drug overdose statistics from state health departments, county medical examiners and coroners’ offices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will calculate final 2016 overdose totals in December.
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