Last week, Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo) office released a report finding that over the last six years, enough opioids were shipped into the state of Missouri to give every resident 260 pills. While that is a snapshot of just one state, combine that news with the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and similar drugs nearly doubled between the last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017, and it becomes clear that the opioid crisis is still destroying the lives of individuals, families, and communities in epic proportions.
These reports follow a new CDC alert to public health and health care professionals about the increased availability of illicit synthetic opioids, the second update to the health advisory since October 2015. As the crisis continues to transform, health care providers, government agencies and Congress are also changing their tactics to fight this epidemic.
Over the past few weeks of extensive negotiations, the House of Representatives wrapped up multiple proposed opioid crisis bills into one large package, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6). This iteration of the bill would grant Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants permanent authority to prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) while the other three Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) professions (Certified Nurse-Midwives, Clinical Nurse Specialists, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) would have authorization for five years. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act would also require a study of the efficacy of providing MAT by all providers, including physicians. H.R. 6 will now move to the Senate where there has been concern over the CBO estimated cost of $395 million over a 10-year period. Given the important role that treatment has in solving this epidemic, ANA does not believe this cost should impede the passing of this bill and increase access to life saving treatment to those suffering from substance use disorders.
Medication-Assisted Treatment has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment for opioid use disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that combined with behavioral therapy, effective MAT programs for opioid addiction decrease overdose deaths resulting in cost savings, reduce transmissions of HIV and hepatitis C related to IV drug use, and mitigate associated criminal activity. Along with APRNs providing MAT services, all nurses with their roles as direct care givers, care coordinators, educators, and patient advocates play a pivotal role in solving this crisis by helping patients and their families understand the risks and benefits of pain treatment options.
ANA will continue to work with Congress, federal agencies, and our partners in the Nursing Community to fight to expand the nurse’s role in solving the opioid crisis. We urge everyone to now call their Senators in support of Senate bill S.2317 (Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act of 2018) and ensure that they include it in any opioid package that is passed.