March 20, 2019

Federal government sees progress on opioid fight

The White House said Tuesday it sees signs of progress in the battle against opioid addiction -- a decline in prescriptions, a slower growth rate for overdose deaths and large seizures of illicit drugs -- one year after President Donald Trump visited New Hampshire to detail his administration's strategy to combat the national opioid misuse epidemic.

The president announced his plan -- revolving around a reduction in prescribing, more attention given to the flow of illicit drugs, greater access to treatment and the death penalty for some drug traffickers -- at Manchester Community College one year ago.

Senior Trump administration officials gave reporters an overview of opioid-related efforts in the last year on Tuesday.

"The whole-of-government approach through this initiative over the last year has really focused on three key areas: prevention and education, interdiction and law enforcement, and treatment and recovery," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday on a briefing call with reporters.

Trump's plan included the implementation of a "safer prescribing plan" that aims to cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by a third by 2021. Conway said Tuesday that in the first year, the White House has "already seen levels fall over 25 percent" due to better education for both prescribers and patients. A mass media campaign designed to teach 18- to 24-year-olds about the dangers of opioids has racked up 1.4 billion views, she said.

Conway said the administration has stepped up the screening of packages from foreign countries like China and Mexico, where much of the illicit fentanyl that has killed thousands of Americans often originates. The administration is also training specialized K-9 units to sniff for the presence of fentanyl, she said.

"The amount of fentanyl seized by Customs and Border Patrol agents in 2018 between ports of entry along the southwest border totaled enough to kill more than 91 million Americans," she said. "We know fentanyl -- for all the positive early leading numbers on breaking the back of the opiate and drug demand crisis -- fentanyl as the CDC tells us is really the reason why these deaths continue. It is an ultra-lethal instant killer."

The administration has also given attention to eliminating unused or unwanted prescription pills from medicine cabinets across the country. Conway said tech and media companies have been helpful in making information about drug take-backs available and in innovating products that seek to give patients a safe way to dispose of their own unwanted medications.

Many of the proposals that made up Trump's opioid plan originated with a report from the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, on which Gov. Charlie Baker served.

"Governor Baker was pleased to serve on the President's bipartisan commission and urges Congress to enact the recommendations to help combat the opioid epidemic plaguing our nation," Baker spokeswoman Anisha Chakrabarti said Tuesday.

"Massachusetts has been recognized as a national leader to address this public health crisis and the Baker-Polito Administration was encouraged to see fewer opioid-related overdose deaths for a second consecutive year," she said. "The administration will continue comprehensive efforts to improve education, prevention and access to treatment to support the Commonwealth's families and communities."

In Massachusetts, 1,518 people died of opioid overdoses in the first nine months of 2018, there were 1,617 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in 2018 and the Department of Public Health estimated that there will be an additional 320 to 394 deaths once officials can verify the cause and manner of the deaths.

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