OPIOIDS

Veterans Among Most At-Risk for Opioid Use Disorder, Obama Unveils New Protection Measures

March 30, 2016

As the Obama Administration unveiled additional measures to escalate the fight against the prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic on Tuesday, evidence that veterans are among those most at risk continues to surface.

According to an investigation by PBS’s Frontline, about 6 in 10 soldiers returning from the Middle East suffer from chronic pain, as do half of older veterans. Moreover, Frontline cites a study of the VA system that shows veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdose than non-veterans.

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Despite steps taken by the VA to curb the problem—including distributing naloxone, a drug than can reverse an opioid overdose, to at-risk veterans—an estimated 68,000 veterans are currently taking opioids, according to Frontline. Underlying the problem is that clinicians lack the time for adequate follow-up, and access to care remains inconsistent.

Many of the initiatives announced by President Barack Obama to address the nation’s opioid crisis will benefit at-risk veterans as well, including:

  • Doubling the patient limit to 200 for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders;
  • $94 million in new funding that will allow 271 Community Health Centers to treat an estimated 124,000 new patients, mostly in underserved communities;
  • Allocation of up to $11 million for up to 11 states to expand their medication-assisted treatment services;
  • Distribution of 10,000 pocket guides to clinicians that include a prescribing checklist and information about non-pharmacologic therapy; and
  • Additional training for those qualified to prescribe buprenorphine.

The president also announced the formation of an interagency task force, whose goal is to “advance access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment; promote compliance with best practices for mental health and substance use disorder parity implementation; and develop additional agency guidance as needed,” according to a White House statement. 

References

Childress S. Veterans face greater risks amid opioid crisis. Frontline. March 28, 2016.

Fact sheet: Obama Administration announces additional actions to address the prescription opioid abuse and heroin epidemic [press release]. Whitehouse.gov. March 29, 2016.