On May 22, the Hill newspaper sponsored another of their series of forums on opioids, America’s Opioid Epidemic: Youth Awareness & Prevention.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) spoke about her state having the highest opioid death rate per capita in the United States and how the state is struggling with the multiple families touched by this epidemic on a daily basis. In West Virginia, there are more children entering foster care and 26,000 grandparents raising their grandchildren due to the epidemic. These numbers are reflective across the United States. The Senator said that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem but that prevention and wellness needs to be incorporated in innovative practices.
The Senator Capito discussed congressional efforts on the many bills across political and committee jurisdictions that continue to focus on opioids. In the Senate that includes “CARA 2.0,” legislation that builds on the 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. She also said that the Administration has not provided enough focus on the opioid epidemic excluding the dedicated funding in the March Omnibus spending bill. Capito said, we are losing an entire generation and that the death penalty for drug dealers is not the solution to this crisis.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) discussed his state of Ohio. In Ohio, with the second highest per capita death rate for opioids, Brown said that there is a need for more educational programs for targeted to young people. An example is in Cincinnati public schools where they are providing wraparound services that embrace parents and students. Originally, wraparound services were initiated by the Cincinnati Public Health Department to address lead paint health issues but that model has been useful in addressing the opioid epidemic. In Washington, Senator Brown said that the recent attacks on Medicaid by the Administration and in Congress are not meeting the needs of the American people.
The forum included comments by Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health in Pennsylvania. Dr Levine shared what her state is doing. Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf declared the opioid epidemic as the biggest public health crisis. He has supported legislation to address it including bills that promote substance abuse education in K through 12 classrooms. These efforts include life skills training. Secretary Levine said that teaching students how to deal with stress, depression, and use coping skills is beneficial for adolescents rather than the past scared straight tactics. Dr. Levine remarked that two challenges that Pennsylvania is facing are that many young people’s parents suffer from addiction and are raised by their grandparents and secondly there are not enough treatment facilities for adolescents.
Pennsylvania action include state guidelines for physicians when engaging adolescent patients including how to talk about the risk of addiction, a set of ten guidelines developed for prescribing opioids for adolescents, legislation limiting opioid prescription to seven days for youth, and allowing appropriate school professionals to carry naloxone, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose.
Another panel consisted of industry representatives including Daniel Miller, Rite Aid, Chester Davis, and Jr., Association for Accessible Medicines, Elizabeth Campbell, AmerisourceBergen, and Tammy Wincup, EVERFI. EVERFI is a technology company that has collaborated with over 20 organizations to create prevention educational tools. Rite Aid has been training their pharmacist on the CDC guidelines for acute medication dispensing, and AmerisourceBergen, a whole seller or supply chain has collaborated with states and the federal government to discuss limitations with accessing data.
The last panel consisted of Clay Stamp, Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center Educator, Carolyn Marano, New Jersey Department of Education, Dr. Frances Jensen, University of Pennsylvania, and Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., S.A.F.E. Project US. .
Admiral Winnefeld shared his story about his son Jonathan who he lost to opioid addiction. Dr. Jensen discussed the latest science on provided adolescent brain development. Teen’s brains are not fully developed until their late 20s and that they do not have the capacity for complex thinking. The adolescent brain develops from the back to the front; therefore the frontal lobe is not fully developed for teens to make rational decisions and addictions hit them harder, longer, and faster. To educate teens on the epidemic the message should be about the science, awareness about mental health, credible testimonies that are educational, and not scare tactics or messages like “just say no.
Mr. Stamp discussed developments in Maryland where they have implemented a treatment, recovery and academic program for students. Maryland’s public awareness campaign, Before It’s Too Late provides resources for individuals, families, educators and health care professionals for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts.
In closing remarks, Senator Capito proposed expanded loan forgiveness for health specialists, Senator Brown would like to see a public health campaign that was similar to the anti-tobacco campaign in the 60s, Admiral Winnefeld recommended that a national advertising campaign that focuses on lowering the stigma of addictions, Dr Levine suggested that Congress needs to provide sustainable funding for states and a clear pathway for applying for funding, and Mr. Stamp proposed that a national response framework to centralize the efforts across America and ensure coordination through action.