Government and Regulations

Joining Forces to Reduce Opioid-Related Death

HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell spoke on the efforts to expand access to medication-assisted treatment, such as buprenorphine, and on the Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal grant program, which provides resources and training on the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.


In September, HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell led a 2-day “intensive convening” of representatives from all 50 states and Washington, DC, focused on stemming the tide of opioid misuse and overdose. More than 145,000 people have died of an opioid overdose in the past 10 years—over 16,200 in 2013 alone. Heroin deaths more than doubled between 2010 and 2013. “The opioid epidemic knows no boundaries; it touches lives in cities, rural counties, and suburban neighborhoods across the country,” said Secretary Burwell. “That’s why it’s so important that we come together—both state and federal leaders—and take a coordinated and comprehensive approach to address this crisis.”

Related: Faster Response to Overdoses

Secretary Burwell commented on 2 efforts. The first is a move to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by revising prescribing regulations of buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence. Research has shown that MAT, a “life-saving, evidence-based treatment,” is underused: HHS says that of the 2.5 million people who currently need treatment for opioid use disorder, fewer than 1 million are receiving it, due to a cap on prescribing. Updating the regulations to allow physicians to prescribe to more patients, Secretary Burwell said, will help more people get much-needed treatment.

Related: Using Dashboard Technology to Monitor Overdose Risk

The second effort involves grants of $1.8 million to rural communities to expand access to naloxone, which reverses opioid overdose. In 2013, according to the CDC, death rates involving prescription opioids were higher in rural counties, compared with urban counties. The Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal (ROOR) grant program will give each of 18 recipients in 13 states $100,000 to buy naloxone, train health care professionals and local emergency responders in using the drug, and facilitate referrals to substance abuse treatment.

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The ROOR pilot program will support partnerships formed at the local level to coordinate care. Each awardee must be part of a rural partnership of 2 or more entities involved in preventing and treating opioid overdose, such as emergency responders, health facilities, law enforcement, and academic organizations.

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