September 1st marks the beginning of another National Recovery Month, a 30-day event established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) aimed at providing educational resources, support and heightened awareness for recovering addicts and their families. This year’s National Recovery Month comes at roughly the same time the public received demoralizing news of record-high fatal overdoses in 2017.
As the nation once again wrings its collective hands and asks what more can be done to stem the tide of overdose fatality, which has become the single largest public health crisis facing the United States, it’s worth examining what we’ve been doing all year. Below are some notable events that occurred last year in the fight against drug and alcohol addiction.
Presidential Opioid Task Force Releases Comprehensive Report
Less than two months after being sworn in, President Trump signed an executive order to assemble a task force to combat the opioid addiction epidemic. The year prior, opioids like heroin, prescription painkillers and synthetics like Fentanyl had claimed the lives of over 42,000 Americans. Headed by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the group held its first meeting in June and took testimony from dozens of experts and collected some 8,000 comments during the early part of the summer before synthesizing their findings into a comprehensive report that outlined key recommendations in November. About one week before the release of the report, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.
FDA Approves First Generic Version of Suboxone®
In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greenlighted the use of generic Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD). FDA Director Scott Gottlieb announced the move as part of a comprehensive series of measures to increase treatment resources to opioid users who find themselves battling dependency. The approval was praised by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has been a longstanding proponent of increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and announced intentions to do so this past February.
CDC Gets New Chief
In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) got new leadership in the form of Dr. Robert Redfield. In his new position, Dr. Redfield brought with him a years-long record of treating those suffering from co-occurring HIV/AIDS and heroin addiction. Critics of his candidacy point to his early calls for mandatory testing at the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. To many, his appointment represents a commitment to science-based addiction treatment. Others have found his record on his AIDS research and treatment questionable.
Doctor Gets 20-Year Prison Term for Criminal Opioid Dispensation
In a story that many say represents a new era of accountability for physicians, 82-year-old Manhattan physician Dr. Martin Tesher was given a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the death of one of his patients. From 2012 to 2017, Tesher distributed more than 14,000 oxycodone prescriptions, generating over two million pills at a combined estimated value of $20 million. His conviction is being seen by many as a warning to physicians and other medical professionals who engage in similar practices.
Scientists Identify Area of the Brain Responsible for Alcohol Addiction
New research published in June may offer insights into why some humans who drink alcohol develop an addiction whereas most do not. Researchers believe their findings and study design could be steps toward developing an effective pharmaceutical therapy for alcohol addiction, a kind of treatment that has eluded researchers for years.
What Else Can We Be Doing?
The above stories represent significant strides in ramping up treatment access, accountability of bad actors and closer regulatory scrutiny; however, they are only the beginning of what needs to be done. As we prepare to herald in another National Recovery Month, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ to ensure that we and our loved ones are fully informed and empowered to prevent addiction and relapse in our lives and our communities. Get involved now.