Prosecutors Fighting Opioids with Homicide-Related Charges Against Drug Dealers

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Some prosecutors are trying to fight the opioid epidemic with homicide-related charges against drug dealers in cases involving overdoses, The New York Times reports. These cases are difficult, prosecutors told the newspaper. They must use toxicology reports to tie medical evidence about the drugs to the fatal overdose. They also have to present evidence that a dealer knew the drugs’ risks but provided them anyway, which is hard to prove. Dealers’ lawyers argue their clients want to keep customers alive because it is good for business. Juries in these cases must determine whether drug dealers are predators or are addicted to drugs themselves. They also must decide if a dealer should be held responsible for the death of a person who took drugs they knew were dangerous.
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Opioid Epidemic Will Take Years to Resolve, Experts Warn

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The opioid epidemic took almost two decades to develop and it will take years to resolve, experts warn in a new report. The report, by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, calls for reducing the number of unnecessary opioid prescriptions, according to HealthDay . The experts also recommend improving access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, and increasing access to safe injection equipment to reduce the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs. The experts say federal agencies should help states provide universal access to proven addiction treatment in hospitals, criminal justice settings and substance-use treatment centers. They also recommend mandatory pain-related education for those who deliver care to people with pain.
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Democrats Ask Drug Policy Office to Do More to Combat Opioid Epidemic

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Twenty Democratic senators are asking the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to do more to combat the opioid epidemic, according to the Associated Press. In a letter to ONDCP Acting Director Richard Baum, the senators urged the Trump Administration to implement recommendations made by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. The senators criticized an administration budget proposal that would cut almost $400 million from drug and mental health programs. They also voiced opposition to the Department of Justice’s increasing insistence on treating drug addiction as a criminal justice issue. The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, recently pushed back its deadline to release a report. It was the second such delay for the commission. Senators who signed the letter included Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.
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Surprising Findings about Addiction in the Workplace

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Quest Diagnostics’ annual drug testing data for 2016 revealed the highest rate of positive workforce drug tests in 12 years. Given the persistent opioid epidemic, this may not sound surprising. Except, the data show that the increase in positive drug screens were not attributed to heroin or prescription opioids, where rates remained stable or dropped. Instead, there were increases in positive drug screens for cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines. Notably, the data reflected that positive drug screens for marijuana were higher than the national average in Colorado and Washington, two states that have legalized recreational marijuana. These findings serve to remind us that while the opioid epidemic currently receives a lot of attention, people are still misusing other substances. Although several interventions and policies are specific to opioids, we must also ensure that evidence-based approaches are broadly directed to all drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. As described in last year’s report by...
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Surgeon General Nominee Sees Opioid Epidemic as High Priority, Supporters Say

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Dr. Jerome Adams, the nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, has made the opioid epidemic a high priority as Indiana’s Health Commissioner, his supporters say. Addiction specialists and advocates tell NPR that Adams has been a leader in implementing lifesaving policies in Indiana. Four months after being appointed in Indiana, Adams announced an HIV outbreak in a rural county. Most of those infected with HIV also tested positive for hepatitis C. Health workers say Adams persuaded then-Governor Mike Pence to allow Indiana counties to create syringe exchanges to contain the spread of disease. “We wouldn’t have syringe exchange if it wasn’t for him,” said Carrie Lawrence, a public health researcher at Indiana University who helps implement syringe exchange programs in Indiana. Adams also supported a state bill that increased access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
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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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