Help addressing opioid epidemic in long-term care is on the way

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Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.
Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.

Long-term care professionals looking to battle the nation's deadly opioid crisis may have an assist on the way, thanks to a slew of new measures announced by the federal government this week.

The National Institutes for Health, for one, said Wednesday that it is doubling funding, with an aim to speed up its seeking of solutions to address this crisis, which kills more than 100 Americans each day. The U.S. Surgeon General also issued an advisory Thursday, the first from that office since 2005, urging family and friends to carry the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone.

Opioids are a critical issue for skilled nursing, as the aging population deals with the increasing incidence of chronic pain. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration projects the population of older adults who misuse opioids to double, and federal lawmakers are also looking to limit the length of new opioid prescriptions for Medicare recipients.

“Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., said in the announcement. “That is a four-fold increase since 2000, and the numbers continue to climb.  NIH has been deeply invested in efforts to counter this crisis through research, but we are determined to do even more.

Collins' announcement, made at the 2018 National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, includes a pledge to double funding for research on pain and opioid addiction from about $600 million in fiscal 2016, up to $1.1 billion this year. Those dollars will go to everything from launching a long-term study on pain and how it progresses from acute to chronic after surgery, forming public-private partnerships to develop non-addictive pain remedies, and bolstering options to treat opioid addiction. It's dubbed the new initiative as “HEAL” — Helping to End Addiction Long-term.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee Wednesday released a discussion draft of legislation aimed at responding to the opioid crisis, with an April 11 hearing scheduled. The “Opioid Crisis Response Act” includes a few items that are of interest to long-term care: providing grants for entities to establish opioid recovery centers, issuing grants to help with workforce shortages, examining the impact of laws that regulate the length and quantity of opioid prescriptions and advancing educational information on the crisis to providers, according to a summary of the act.