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The Necessary Next Step in the Battle Against Substance Addiction

January 28, 2020
3:42 pm

One area in which we have seen a great deal of bipartisanship in Washington is in the effort to prevent and treat substance use disorder.  In 2018, Congress passed groundbreaking legislation by overwhelming margins in both houses that gave states the resources they need to combat what was then commonly known as the opioid crisis.

But as U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) pointed out at a recent congressional hearing, the battle is far from over.  As she said, this addiction crisis has come in waves – the first being prescription pain medicines, the second heroin, the third synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and now, “it looks like a ‘fourth wave’ of the crisis may have already arrived.  The opioid epidemic has fueled a huge increase in methamphetamine use.  In 2018, there were more than twice as many deaths involving meth as 2015, and meth is increasingly turning up in overdose deaths and drug busts across the country.”

Given this continued high level of addiction and overdose cases, it is imperative that we give healthcare providers the tools they need to effectively treat substance use disorder patients.  So, an essential next step in combating this drug crisis must involve addressing regulatory barriers that are standing between medical professionals and the information they need to provide effective diagnosis and treatment.

A law that is more than 40 years old, known as 42 CFR Part 2, places information sharing in substance use disorder cases on a different plane that that applied to all other patients under HIPAA laws.  42 CFR Part 2 places strict limitations on confidential data sharing among front-line caregivers and, in so doing, makes care coordination extraordinarily difficult.  This outdated law worsens the odds of substance use disorder patients surviving and recovering.

There are two bills that have been introduced in Congress to address this problem.  The Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act in the House and the Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act in the Senate would remove these regulatory stumbling blocks and enable caregivers to have the information they need to do their jobs.

The necessity of these measures was underscored by an official with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, who told Congress,  “We have invested a lot of resources through peer support and other tools to try to support that coordination, care management, etc. but there is still a huge limitation.  Even doctors within the same system can’t easily talk to each other to coordinate care around their patients.  North Carolina is fully supportive of modernizing 42 CFR in an attempt to maintain privacy but also move us to integrated care.”

A Public Health Crisis Requires a Roadmap of Solutions

July 12, 2018
2:50 pm

It’s indisputable that the opioid addiction crisis with which America is currently grappling is one of historic magnitude.  We’re losing more than 115 people per day from opioid overdoses.  Families and communities are being devastated and public resources – healthcare, social services, law enforcement – are being stretched thin.

This is a serious problem, but it is not an insolvable one.  Recently, the Healthcare Leadership Council, working with over 70 organizations from the healthcare, employer, patient advocacy, and addiction treatment sectors, released a “Roadmap for Action” consisting of over 30 achievable, high-impact solutions to address opioid misuse and addiction.  The Roadmap is the product of several weeks of deliberations, idea sharing and consensus building and represents a collaboration of unprecedented breadth to address a national public health crisis.

The Roadmap identifies five key priorities as essential, including:

•    Improving healthcare system approaches to pain management
•    Improving current approaches to prevent opioid misuse
•    Expanding access to evidence-based substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health services
•    Promoting improved care coordination through data access and analytics
•    Developing sustainable payment systems that support coordination and quality care

This package of solution addresses both regulatory and legislative priorities but, just as importantly, it includes actions that healthcare leaders should take.  Winning this battle will require a public-private effort.  And the recommendations we’re offering, some of which are detailed in the following paragraphs, reflect this broad-based strategy.

Health sector leaders have a responsibility to improve access to evidence-based, non-opioid and non-pharmacological pain management therapies. (It’s vital to recognize that, in taking on the opioid crisis, we cannot place obstacles between millions of Americans suffering from chronic and acute pain and the treatments they need.) Developing and evaluating these treatments will require long-term evidence generation and data collection, but their proliferation will cut costs and improve outcomes for patients in the long run.

We must also focus on improving data-driven coordinated care, and in order to do this we must create access to real-time prescribing data within the clinician workflow. Improving critical data access must also include legislative action to change a law known as 42 CFR Part 2 to allow confidential information sharing on SUD diagnosis history while still adhering to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It is important that patients’ privacy be protected, but it is also vital that care providers understand their patients’ substance abuse histories if they are to provide them with the well-informed care that they need.

And we must develop sustainable payment frameworks that prioritize quality, coordinated, value-based care connecting patients with the medical resources they need, whether that be a pharmacist, primary care provider, nurse practitioner, licensed addiction treatment professional, or certified peer recovery specialist.  In fact, we must engage the full community of medical professionals in coordinated care to treat patients struggling with substance use disorder.

This is just a sample of the comprehensive, multi-faceted plan we’re going to be advancing.  No single organization, regulatory agency or legislative body can solve this crisis by themselves.  Working together, though, we have the ability to save lives and prevent tragedies.  The time for bold and decisive action is now.