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Slashing America’s Opioid Abuse

Opioid abuse is a major public health issue. Many people have lost their lives to overdose, and millions of Americans continue to misuse these drugs and struggle with addiction.
Federal, state, and local programs have responded in an effort to curb opioid abuse and addiction. Presidents Obama and Trump have taken stands on the issue, and states have poured more resources into treatment and prevention. Even communities have rolled up their sleeves with programs such as needle exchange centers and equipping police officers with tools to help prevent overdoses.
These programs have already started to have an impact and can hopefully prevent more people from falling prey to addiction and overdose in the future.

The Scope of the Problem

Some examples of opioid medications are:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin).
  • Percocet (oxycodone plus acetaminophen).
  • Vicodin (hydrocodone plus acetaminophen).
  • Morphine.
  • Methadone.

Different opioid medications are used to treat a range of conditions, including moderate to severe pain, coughing, and diarrhea. They are safe when used as prescribed, but are frequently misused because of effects such as relaxation and euphoria.1

People misuse opioids when they take them in a way other than prescribed, take someone else’s medication, or take the medication to get high. Misusing the medications can increase the risk of addiction and overdose.1

Prescription opioids are in the same drug class as heroin, and many people develop a heroin addiction after first misusing opioid painkillers.1 Research suggests that, of those Americans who use heroin, approximately 80% misused prescription pain medications first. 2

In 2016:3

  • Approximately 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids, and 2.1 million people misused them for the first time.
  • More than 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses.
  • 17,087 people died from commonly prescribed prescription opioids and 15,469 died from heroin.

As the opioid epidemic has become more pronounced, federal, state, and local leaders have stepped up with programs to address the problem.

Obama’s Plan to Help America Overcome Opioid Abuse

In October 2015, President Barack Obama announced a new plan to combat opioid abuse. He traveled to West Virginia to hear firsthand accounts of families and individuals affected by prescription painkillers and heroin addiction.

President Obama also spoke with law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals, and community leaders to open up dialogue on the growing opioid abuse epidemic.

President Obama’s plan aimed to:4

  • Promote prescriber training for over 540,000 healthcare providers to ensure best practice for opioid prescriptions.
  • Double the number of doctors authorized to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction, over 3 years.
  • Double the number of healthcare providers authorized to prescribe naloxone, a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, and increase the amount of naloxone doses available to the general public.
  • Double the number of health care providers registered with their state prescription drug monitoring programs.
  • Have pharmacies train their pharmacists about opioid treatment medications.
  • Have police officers possess “opioid overdose resuscitation” cards so that they can accurately recognize an opioid overdose and respond accordingly.
  • Provide education through the National Parent-Teacher Association on opioid misuse to its millions of members.
  • Place prescription drug disposal boxes in locations where opioid use is highest.
  • Create new rules that aim to make treatment coverage for drug addiction just as extensive as medical and surgical benefits.
  • Expand medication-assisted treatment—the use of medications such as buprenorphine or methadone—for opioid addiction in community health centers.

Trump Administration Programs

President Donald Trump has also taken action on the opioid epidemic. Some of the steps his administration has undertaken are listed below:5

  • On October 26, 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would acknowledge the opioid use crisis as a nationwide public health emergency.
  • President Trump’s administration held a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day during which people could get rid of expired and unneeded prescription drugs.It is reported that 456 tons of medications were collected.
  • President Trump’s budget proposed $3 billion in funding in 2018 and $10 billion in funding in 2019 to fight this national crisis.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offered $485 million in State Targeted Response grants to help states increase prevention, treatment, and recovery services to help those who struggle with opioid use.
  • The Food and Drug Administration approved a new form of buprenorphine that requires monthly doses instead of daily ones.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided grant funding to states as part of the Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance program. The program helps states track opioid overdoses and increases prevention efforts.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration plans to expand access to treatment services in underserved communities through the use of primary care doctors.
  • President Trump’s administration also plans to target illegal importation and distribution of opioids.The Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force was created to target opioid manufacturers and distributors who fuel opioid abuse.The Department of Justice has already reported indictments against Chinese manufacturers of fentanyl.

Visit the administration’s website to learn more about how it’s dealing with the crisis.

State Programs

States are tackling opioid addiction as well. Some have declared statewide emergencies to deal with the epidemic as deaths have continued to climb. States that have declared emergencies include South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Alaska, Virginia, and Massachusetts.6

States have passed 4 main types of laws to curtail opioid abuse:7

  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) enrollment laws require opioid providers to enroll in their state’s electronic PDMP database.
  • PDMP query laws require the provider to check the PDMP before prescribing an opioid. The database can help providers recognize when someone has received an unusually high number of prescriptions or is getting prescriptions from multiple doctors (“doctor shopping”).
  • Cap laws limit the dose and duration of prescriptions.
  • Pill mill laws regulate pain clinics very closely to prevent overprescribing or the prescription of opioids for nonmedical purposes.

Many states have seen success with these strategies. For example, after passing PDMP query and pain clinic regulations, 85% of counties reduced prescriptions in Ohio, 80% of counties reduced prescriptions in Florida, and 62% of counties reduced prescriptions in Kentucky.8

Massachusetts put additional funding into new treatment beds, community health centers, and education and treatment programs for people recovering from opioid abuse and addiction. As a result, opioid overdose deaths dropped by approximately 10% in less than one year.9

Community Programs

Communities have fought back against opioid abuse, too. Some community-level programs include:

  • Prescription take-back programs, which allow people to safely dispose of unneeded and expired medications. These are available in many communities across the country.10
  • Equipping police offers with naloxone, which can quickly and effectively reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.11
  • Needle exchange programs, which give IV drug users access to clean needles, promoting safer use and reducing additional risks, such as HIV infection and overdose.12

Learn More or Find Help for a Loved One Who Is Addicted to Heroin or Painkillers

If you or a loved one struggles with a heroin or painkiller addiction, search our treatment directory. It features programs throughout the country that provide support to those who misuse prescription painkillers or have addictions to heroin and other opioids.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Prescription Opioids.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Heroin.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?
  4. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (2015). FACT SHEET: Obama Administration Announces Public and Private Sector Efforts to Address Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Use.
  5. The White House. (2018). Fact Sheets: President Donald J. Trump is Combatting the Opioid Crisis.
  6. Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. (2018). Emergency Declarations in Eight States to Address the Opioid Epidemic.
  7. McGinty, E.E., Stuart, E.A., Caleb Alexander, G., Barry, C.L., Bicket, M.C. & Rutkow, L. (2018). Protocol: Mixed-Methods Study to Evaluate Implementation, Enforcement, and Outcomes of U.S. State Laws Intended to Curb High-Risk Opioid PrescribingImplementation Science : IS, 13, 37.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). State Successes.
  9. Darragh, T. (2018). Even with State Disaster Declarations, Combating Opioid Epidemic is Uphill Battle. The Morning Call.
  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know.
  11. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2018). NC Communities Work Together to Combat Opioid Epidemic.
  12. North American Syringe Exchange Network.

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