This was an extraordinary meeting, which was convened by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rob Portman of Ohio. The focus of the meeting was Addiction and Criminal Justice and they were joined by a number of their associates in the Senate and House. Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont also presented.
They convened a number of experts from the addiction treatment and Criminal Justice communities to focus on how to provide access to opioid addiction treatment in the Criminal Justice setting as well as the general population.
There were a number of messages which resonated throughout the day’s discussions from a number of Senators and Congressional representatives. It is clear that the issue of opioid dependence and addiction is on their radar screens. A number that was frequently sited throughout their deliberations was the fact that more than 100 Americans die from opioid overdose each day. It is also clear that a significant number of individuals who have become addicted to prescription opioids have migrated over to injecting heroin. There have been increasing initiatives to decrease access to the use of prescription opioids, including the introduction of tamper resistant formulations of prescription opioids, increasing utilization of Prescription Monitoring Programs, and more effective state legislation, curtailing the existence of “pill mills”, which dispensed large quantities of prescription opioids. Another critical component of increased heroin use is the large quantities of heroin being trafficked from Mexican drug cartels in purer form and at very low prices.
This has created a major public health crisis, which is marshalling the interests of elected officials as well as federal and state agency alcohol and drug abuse representatives. I expect that Governor Shumlin and his associates will be working with the National Governors’ Association to provide increasing policy focus in dealing with the public health crisis of prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction, in addition to increasing access to treatment in appropriate and effective clinical treatment programs. This has already begun with an increased interest on the distribution of Naloxone Opioid Overdose Prevention Kits to first responders in different cities. The challenge will be in connecting these initiatives to increasing access to care once an overdose victim has been saved and before they have the opportunity to continue their untreated addiction and experience additional overdoses.
It was a remarkable Senate meeting, and there was clearly a focus on increasing access to the use of the federally approved medications to treat opioid addiction (methadone, buprenorphine, and Naltrexone/Vivitrol), through Drug Courts, probation and parole offices, and correctional institutions. We have an unusual opportunity, driven by great tragedy, to educate Americans about the dangers of opioid addiction and to work with a number of policy partners to increase access to such treatment interventions as a method decreasing the number of people who are getting addicted to prescription opioids and heroin. I am providing a link to a number of the photographs that were taken during the day’s proceedings.