Aetna Embraces Medication to Combat Opioid Crisis

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Aetna is going all in on medication-assisted treatment in response to the opioid epidemic, according to a letter CEO Mark Bertolini is sending today to a handful of Democratic senators. Bertolini highlights three goals the insurer hopes to achieve by 2022: Reduce inappropriate opioid prescriptions by 50%. Increase by 50% the number of opioid addicts treated with medication-assisted treatment and other evidence-based treatments. Increase the number of enrollees with chronic pain who use alternative pain treatments by 50%. Go deeper: Aetna's embrace of medication-assisted treatment is a sharp contrast from some insurers' previous reluctance to cover the approach, which Bob Herman covered for Modern Healthcare. It also follows Tom Price's controversial comment saying medication-assisted treatment is "substituting one opioid for another." But Aetna has already worked to make medication more available: Earlier this year, it removed all pre-authorization requirements for certain products and put them on a preventive medicine list...
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The Opioid Epidemic May Be Even Deadlier Than We Think

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The opioid epidemic has led to the deadliest drug crisis in US history – even deadlier than the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Drug overdoses now cause more deaths than gun violence and car crashes. They even caused more deaths in 2015 than HIV/AIDS did at the height of the epidemic in 1995. A new study suggests that we may be underestimating the death toll of the opioid epidemic and current drug crisis. The study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at 1,676 deaths in Minnesota’s Unexplained Death surveillance system (UNEX) from 2006 – 2015. The system is meant to refer cases with no clear cause of death to further testing and analysis. In total, 59 of the UNEX deaths, or about 3.5 percent, were linked to opioids. But more than half of these opioid-linked deaths didn’t show up in Minnesota’s...
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Advocates Aim to Protect Insurance Coverage for Addiction Treatment

Advocates Aim to Protect Insurance Coverage for Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment advocates are trying to convince Republican legislators in states greatly impacted by the opioid epidemic to protect insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed. Repealing the ACA without having a plan in place to preserve coverage would weaken efforts to address the opioid crisis, according to Gary Mendell, founder of Shatterproof, a nonprofit that advocates for legislation to fight addiction. Shatterproof is working with the National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents 2,800 providers of mental health and addiction treatment, The Wall Street Journal reports. The groups are focusing on legislators in West Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, Nevada, Alaska and Arizona.
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Telemedicine Could Help Fight Opioid Epidemic

Telemedicine Could Help Fight Opioid Epidemic
Some health professionals say telemedicine could help fight the opioid epidemic, according to The Washington Post . The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has directed $1.4 million to five pilot projects that will use video chat to connect patients with physicians who are trained in treating addiction. Using telemedicine to treat addiction faces significant challenges, the article notes. Prescribing and monitoring addiction medications must be done “face to face, by a physician who has been licensed [by the Drug Enforcement Administration]. That’s a barrier,” said Richard Merkel, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Science at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The university, which is part of the USDA initiative, will provide remote addiction and mental health treatment to 11 rural community health centers. The university is considering establishing regional centers where patients could go for addiction medications.
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FDA Looking for Apps to Combat Opioid Overdose

FDA Looking for Apps to Combat Opioid Overdose
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the 2016 Naloxone App Competition to look for innovative technologies to fight the opioid epidemic. The FDA is looking for apps that will connect a person experiencing an opioid overdose with the closest supply of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, CNN reports. Anyone who wants to participate must register by October 7. There will be a Naloxone App Code-a-Thon on the FDA campus on October 19 and 20. All submissions are due by November 7, according to a news release. A panel of judges from the FDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will evaluate submissions and the highest-scoring entrant will receive an award of $40,000.
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States Receive $53 Million in Grants to Fight Opioid Epidemic

States Receive $53 Million in Grants to Fight Opioid Epidemic
Forty-four states will receive a total of $53 million in grants from the Obama Administration to fight the opioid epidemic, the Los Angeles Times reports. Administration officials are calling on legislators to approve $1.1 billion requested by President Obama to increase addiction treatment. The new state funds will include money to provide first responders with the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said more help is needed. “Simply reviving people isn’t enough to turn the tide of this epidemic,” he said. The state grants also include money for upgrading prescription monitoring programs, and expanding programs that use medication-assisted treatment for addiction.
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Surgeon General Asks All Doctors for Help in Addressing Opioid Crisis

Surgeon General Asks All Doctors for Help in Addressing Opioid Crisis
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has sent a letter to every doctor in the country, asking for their help in solving the opioid epidemic, CNN reports. Murthy is asking all doctors to sign a pledge at TurnTheTideRx.org to educate themselves to treat pain safely and effectively; to screen patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment; and to talk about and treat addiction as a chronic illness, not a moral failing. “I know solving this problem will not be easy,” Murthy wrote. “We often struggle to balance reducing our patients’ pain with increasing their risk of opioid addiction. But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic.”
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Addiction a Chronic Disease of the Brain, Not a Character Flaw: Surgeon General

Addiction a Chronic Disease of the Brain, Not a Character Flaw: Surgeon General
Many people still see addiction as a character flaw instead of a chronic disease of the brain, according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. He told The Huffington Post that to address the opioid epidemic, it is necessary to “change how our country sees addiction.” Almost two million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids, Dr. Murthy told the publication’s Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington. “We can work on sharpening our prescribing practices, working with clinicians to ensure we’re treating pain safely and effectively,” he said. Doctors need to be more equipped with skills for “how to recognize and treat substance use disorders to ensure that all the needs of a patient population are cared for.”
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Opioid Epidemic Puts New Focus on Sober Housing on College Campuses

Opioid Epidemic Puts New Focus on Sober Housing on College Campuses
The opioid epidemic is increasing interest in college sober housing, PBS NewsHour reports. Sober dorms offer substance-free housing and activities for students in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Rutgers University in New Jersey pioneered the concept of sober housing in 1988, the article notes. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation last year that requires all state college and universities to offer sober housing if at least one-quarter of students live on campus. Schools will have four years to comply. Texas Tech has had substance-free housing since 2011, while Oregon State University will offer sober housing this coming school year. The University of Vermont launched a recovery program in 2010, which includes sober housing. Sober dorms are a “major new development in the recovery movement. They’re unique because they get to the heart of the beast,” said Dr. Robert DuPont, who heads the drug policy think tank the...
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Prescriptions for Opioid Painkillers on the Decline

Prescriptions for Opioid Painkillers on the Decline
The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers is declining in the United States, a sign that the opioid epidemic may be peaking, The New York Times reports. Opioid prescriptions decreased in 2013, 2014 and 2015, according to the newspaper’s review of several data sources. Before that, doctors were writing so many opioid prescriptions that there were enough for every American adult to have their own bottle, the article notes. The decline indicates that doctors have begun listening to warnings about the drugs’ addictive potential, and that government efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions are having an effect, experts say. “The culture is changing,” said Dr. Bruce Psaty, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, who studies drug safety. “We are on the downside of a curve with opioid prescribing now.” According to the information firm IMS Health, there has been a 12 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions nationwide since...
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