Report calls for focus on ‘subpopulations’ to fight opioid epidemic


Most people who could benefit from FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder do not receive them, and access to those treatments is not equitable, according to a new consensus study report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Dr. Victor J. Dzau is the chair of the Action Collaborative and current National Academy of Medicine president

Dr. Victor J. Dzau

“Methadone, buprenorphine, and extended-release naltrexone are safe and highly effective medications that are already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat OUD,” the report said. “These medications save lives, but the majority of people with OUD in the United States receive no treatment at all.”

The report, called “Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives,” said a critical factor in addressing the crisis is “confronting the major barriers” to using those medications. It also said additional research will be needed to address opioid use disorder among subpopulations in the United States, such as adolescents, older adults, people with comorbidities, racial and ethnic groups, and people with low socioeconomic status. The National Academies’ report was sponsored by NIDA and SAMHSA.

A few weeks before the release of National Academies report, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) held a webinar providing details on its Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic. The collaborative, a partnership of public and private stakeholders, aims to address the opioid crisis through a multidisciplinary, cross-sector effort.

The collaborative is represented by federal agencies, state and local governments, health care systems, provider groups, nonprofits, payers, industry, academia, patient organizations, and communities across about 55 organizations, according to Victor J. Dzau, MD, chair of the Action Collaborative and current NAM president. Over a 2-year period, the collaborative’s goal is to accelerate progress in overcoming the opioid crisis by recognizing the challenges, research gaps, and needs of organizations involved in the crisis and “elevate and accelerate evidence-based, multisectoral, and interprofessional solutions,” he said.

“This is not a problem that can be solved by a single sector. It is truly a whole of society problem,” said Adm. Brett P. Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during the webinar. “And the only way that we are going to be able to begin making inroads to reverse the trends of this crisis is if we work together.” Dr. Giroir also serves as cochair of the steering committee for the collaborative.

In its overview of the collaborative, the NAM outlined four working groups developed through a series of surveys and planning meetings that would identify the resources that currently exist to combat the opioid epidemic and determine which resources still need to be developed. In the Health Professional Education and Training Working Group, for example, the objective is to examine what is being taught to health professionals about acute and chronic pain management at an accreditation, certification, and regulatory level to develop educational tools based around knowledge gaps in those areas and analyze how the new resources are affecting health professions after they have been adopted, said Steve Singer, PhD, vice president of education and outreach at the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and colead of the working group.“Our goal is really to provide guidance and resources across the continuum of health professions and education with an interprofessional – and patient-informed view,” he said.

Dr. Helen Burstin is executive vice president and CEO for the Council of Medical Specialty Societies

Dr. Helen Burstin

The Opioid Prescribing Guidelines and Evidence Standards Working Group plans to address the disparities in prescribing and tapering guidelines for acute and chronic pain as well as identify where pain management guidelines in different specialties “cannot be justified,” based on available evidence.

“Further, we think it’s really important to not just have guidelines that will sit on a shelf, but we also want to think about how we can support implementation of these guidelines into practice ... ” said Helen Burstin, MD, MPH, executive vice president and CEO for the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and colead of the working group.

Alonzo L. Plough, PhD, MPH, vice president of research-evaluation-learning at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and colead of the Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Services Working Group, explained that the goal of his group is to identify the “essential elements and components” and best practices of prevention, treatment, and recovery for OUD. He noted that, although the working group will not be able to reach all patient populations affected by OUD, it has discussed targeting vulnerable high-risk populations, such as those involved in the criminal justice system, homeless veterans, mothers, and children.

“This is an ecosystem that requires great concentration and effort to make sure that there are integrated approaches throughout the continuum that work for patients and clients from different walks of life, and I think that our overall guidance is how we can recognize and use evidence to find those approaches and build on them for guidance,” he said.

The Research, Data, and Metrics Needs Working Group is tasked with collaborating with the other groups to obtain currently available information and identify what barriers exist to greater transparency, sharing and interoperability of data as well as what gaps in research currently exist that would further the collaborative’s mission, said Kelly J. Clark, MD, MBA, of the ASAM. “It is simply critical for us to utilize the data that’s out there, to pool it into more actionable information – and then to act on it,” Dr. Clark said.

The NAM is seeking new organizations interested in joining the collaborative as a network organization, which would receive updates and provide input on the collaborative but would not be a part of the working groups.

The first public meeting of the Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic will take place on April 30, 2019, in Washington.

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