NASS signs letter calling for urgent political action on US opioid crisis

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A large group of societies—including the North American Spine Society—have signed a letter urging for the US Capitol to take action to tackle the country’s growing opioid crisis.

The letter, addressed to the US Senate and the US House of Representatives, demands action as the 144th meeting of Congress draws to an end. It requests that Congress “consider[s] the urgent and growing need to effectively address the opioid epidemic” permeating through the country.

“Significant funding is needed to ensure evidence-based approaches to prevention, treatment, and recovery strategies are available to the many Americans who so desperately need them,” the letter reads. “The wide-ranging and devastating impact of this true public health emergency on individuals, families, and our communities demonstrates the pressing need for this critical funding.”

The letter emphasises the need to treat opioid addiction as a disease to be treated by healthcare professionals, rather than a cause for moral panic, “Greater [public] awareness…highlights shifting attitudes in how we as a society view addiction and substance use disorders, treating them as the diseases they are rather than as moral failings or weaknesses,” the letter reads. “As noted in the US Surgeon General’s recent report on addiction, adopting an evidence-based approach to prevention, treatment, and recovery is essential in addressing substance use disorders, as it would be with other health conditions.”

The letter references Vivek H Murthy’s report on alcohol, drugs and health, “Facing Addiction in America”. This report, released in November 2016, “marks the first time a US Surgeon General has dedicated a report to substance misuse and related disorders,” according to a press release from the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The report “addresses alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drug misuse, with chapters dedicated to neurobiology, prevention, treatment, recovery, health systems integration and recommendations for the future.”

“Alcohol and drug addiction take an enormous toll on individuals, families, and communities,” says Murthy, in the HHS release. “Most Americans know someone who has been touched by an alcohol or a drug use disorder. Yet 90% of people with a substance use disorder are not getting treatment. That has to change.”

“Opioid addiction”, the release states, “is an underappreciated but critical public health challenge that can lead to substance use disorders, such as addiction. In 2015, nearly 48 million Americans used an illicit drug or misused a prescription medication, approximately 67 million reported binge drinking in the past month, and nearly 28 million self-reported driving under the influence in the past year.” The release argues that this large, at-risk population of Americans can benefit from appropriate screening, prevention, and treatment services.

The letter from NASS and other organisations asks Congress to “provide the maximum possible allocation to fund not only the grant programs designated under the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) passed earlier this year, but to also substantially increase funding for much-needed prevention and treatment efforts for opioid misuse and related disorders.”

Commending Congress for the action it has taken so far in recognising the public health crisis sweeping the country. “We deeply appreciate your work,” the letter states. “As providers we strongly urge Congress to ensure that existing and newly created programs have the necessary resources to meet the needs of patients and families struggling with opioid use disorders.”

Emphasising the need for political collaboration, the document commends the “bipartisan work” taken to address opioid addiction. “We stand ready to support you in this vital effort,” the letter concludes.

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