The White House's drug commission called on President Donald Trump to declare the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency and expedite funds and resources to stop the crisis.
In its initial report to the president, the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis called for mandatory prescriber education initiatives on opioids and specifically called for Trump to instruct the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Agency to require physicians to take continuing medical education courses on opioid prescribing to apply or renew for a license to prescribe the drugs.
Medical and dental schools should work to improve healthcare professionals' prescribing habits and lessen the risk of overprescribing, the report said.
Overprescribing of opioid pain relievers has been widely viewed as the leading cause for the rise in opioid-related substance abuse cases and overdose deaths over the past decade. Opioids accounted for more than 63% of the more than 52,000 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among opioid-related deaths, more than 15,000 involved the use of a prescription opioid.
"This interim report is meant to give the president some immediate steps that he can take to try and make sure that we stop the deaths that are happening across this country," commission chair and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.
Some states have tried to curb the number of opioid prescriptions written by requiring prescribers to review data from prescription drug monitoring program databases. In Florida, such efforts have sparked an 80% decline in the number of opioids prescribed per capita from 2010 to 2015.
A recent CDC study found opioid prescribing rates fell by 13% from 2012 to 2015, but the number of opioids prescribed in 2015 remained three times higher than were prescribed in 1999.
"If we don't move upstream a bit and look at cutting down the number of prescriptions and availability of opioids, we're just going to have continued problems," said Dr. Greg Makris, clinical lead for the Great Lakes Practice Transformation Network at the Altarum Institute.
The commission's report also called on the CMS to grant waivers that will allow state Medicaid programs to cover substance abuse treatment in residential facilities with more than 16 beds. Although Congress last year included a provision in the 21st Century Cures Act that allowed Medicaid to cover that treatment for up to 15 days, the commission said states should be allowed to bypass the requirement entirely. Proponents say that policy change would increase treatment capacity immediately.
The commission urged Trump to enforce federal law and ensure health plans don't impose less favorable benefits for mental health and substance abuse diagnoses.
"This is simply an issue of equity and medical civil rights so that patients who have an illness not unlike any other chronic illness are not treated differently by their insurers," said former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a member of the commission. "I believe a lot of the denial we are seeing in insurance coverage stems from the overall denial that our country is living in when it comes to this healthcare crisis."
Other report recommendations included establishing a federal fund to expand greater access to medication-assisted treatment, and for the National Institutes of Health to partner with drugmakers to develop new medication-assisted treatments.
Trump created the commission via executive order in March, calling on the task force to come up with recommendations on the most effective ways the federal government could support treatment and prevention efforts. The commission received more than 8,000 public comments after its first public meeting June 16.
Christie said the commission's final report will be released in the fall.