How Can Congress Prevent Opioid Deaths in 2017?

The CDC has released shocking new figures that suggest deaths from opioid use rose by 15 percent between 2014 and 2015, with some classes of drug abuse increasing by a whopping 72 percent. So how can Congress tackle this public health challenge in 2017?

The ongoing opioid crisis in the United States is hardly news, but alarming data from 2015 indicates an escalating situation.

The CDC’s annual Morbidity and Mortality report, which tracks deaths across the U.S., found that more than 52,000 people died as a result of a drug overdose in 2015, with just over 63 percent of those deaths involving prescription or illegally obtained opioids.

To put this figure in some kind of context, the total number of drug overdoses increased by 11.4 percent from 2014′s figures. 33,091 of the deaths that year involved opioids, thus, increasing by 15.5 percent in 2015. The CDC also notes that in 2015 more than 15,000 people died from overdoses of drugs they were prescribed.

These figures are particularly alarming when considering deaths related to illicit fentanyl.

The report states:

From 2014 to 2015, the death rate from synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, increased by 72.2%, and heroin death rates increased by 20.6%. Rates of death involving heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone increased across all demographic groups, regions, and in numerous states. Natural/semisynthetic opioid death rates increased by 2.6%, whereas, methadone death rates decreased by 9.1%.

Kathryn E. Martin, acting Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHS, explained:

The increase in overdose deaths is tangible evidence of the real impact of substance use disorder on millions of Americans and underscores the importance of the Administration’s continued focus on prevention, treatment and recovery services.

There is some good news here, however. While these figures remain deeply concerning, the CDC found evidence that legislative and policy strategies have helped to reduce some opioid deaths — namely, those linked to painkillers.

The report notes:

The decline in methadone death rates, a trend observed since 2008, followed efforts to reduce methadone use for pain, including Food and Drug Administration warnings, limits on high dose formulations, and clinical guidelines (6). The small increase in natural/semisynthetic opioid death rates illustrates an ongoing problem with prescription opioids; however, the increase has slowed from 2013–2014, potentially because of policy and health system changes, required prescription drug monitoring program review, legislative changes in naloxone distribution, and prescribing guidelines.

As with all CDC reports of this nature, there are some limitations.

For example, not all states track opioid deaths in ways that qualify them for inclusion in the data, and that means that the report may not be a completely accurate account of the opioid problem. However, the figures continue to offer a good baseline record, and they have allowed state and federal lawmakers to analyze the effectiveness of their existing policies on the matter.

The Obama administration has taken a number of actions in an attempt to cut opioid abuse. For example, on December 13 Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. This legislation allows an additional $1 billion in funding to be directed toward the opioid crisis.

The Department for Health and Human Services has also moved to implement policies designed to specifically address opioid abuse, such as providing firmer guidance on when it is appropriate for doctors to prescribe opioids.

In addition to these initiatives, the Obama administration has supported increasing the availability of naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdose and save lives.

How can Congress and President Trump fight opioid abuse 2017?

The CDC outlines a number of ways in which Congress and state lawmakers can work to curb the opioid problem.

One strategy is to give physicians better training on opioid prescription and other pain management options. This goes hand in hand with efforts to improve prescription drug monitoring and coordinate initiatives across states that will allow for more comprehensive data on opioid use and abuse, thereby helping to identify risk factors.

Progress must also be made to increase the availability of naloxone and improve syringe services. Some state police departments have resisted naloxone kits, and local health authorities have stated that they aren’t yet able to confidently discuss naloxone and opioid addiction with patients.

There is convincing evidence to suggest that targeting the illicit opioid supply, rather than users and abusers of those drugs, would help to prevent opioid deaths. As a result, Congress and the incoming Trump administration should not seek to rekindle the war on drugs but instead should aim to follow strategies proposed by the CDC and help law enforcement agencies tackle illegal fentanyl manufacturing, among other problems.

No single action can end the opioid death epidemic, but the incoming Trump presidency must take every evidence-based action it can to continue President Obama’s good work and get this crisis under control.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

We have to build that wall Trump always talks about to stem the tide of drugs coming into our country. We also need more education about what drugs do to you.

Leong S
Leong S2 years ago


ERIKA SOMLAI2 years ago


heather g
heather g2 years ago

Trump will be called upon to act - nothing can be predicted though. Do doctors want to get rid of their patients in the US?

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

William C
William C2 years ago


Margie FOURIE2 years ago

Thank you

Ron B
Ron B2 years ago

Considering that the US will soon be faced with the nightmare of Donald Trump as president, I would imagine that opioid deaths are going to do nothing but rise. And considering that Congress is now thoroughly infested with Republicans, why would it even care?

Janet B
Janet B2 years ago


Pablo B
.2 years ago