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Obama expected to sign act aiming to chip away at opioid woes

Obama expected to sign act aiming to chip away at opioid woes

President Barack Obama is expected to sign an opioid and heroin abuse bill aimed to address the nation's narcotic epidemic by giving states the opportunity to apply for government grants to assist in opioid addiction recovery and prevention programs that may help employers return addicted injured workers to work.

The bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, S. 524, was passed 92-2 last week by the U.S. Senate.

The act will provide grants to community organizations that can use the funds to promote recovery support services which may include working with employers to get opioid addicted or dependent persons back to work, Trey Gillespie, Austin, Texas-based senior workers compensation director at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said Tuesday in an email.

The legislation expands federal and state prevention and educational efforts associated with opioid overuse, improves the availability of opioid overdose treatments such as naloxone, strengthens prescription drug monitoring programs and expands use of evidence-based treatment protocols for prescription drugs.

The bill could have a positive impact on reducing the number of addicted injured workers who remain off work for unnecessarily long periods of time, Mr. Gillespie said. “In general, employers are highly motivated to work with responsible caregivers who are working to get employees off of long-term opioid treatment and back to work,” he said.

President Obama requested more than $1 billion to be allocated to states for the program, however the final bill allows for only $181 million per year.

The Department of Health and Human Services will distribute grants to fund treatment programs, law enforcement-assisted diversion, prisons, educational programs, and to increase the number of patients able to receive medication-assisted treatment, said Michael Gavin, Duluth, Georgia-based president of medical cost management company Prium, in a blog last week.

But, he says, the amount of money earmarked in the bill for these efforts is “woefully insufficient.”

For 16 million people in the U.S. who suffer from some form of substance use disorder, the federal bill would only provide $11 per person per year, Mr. Gavin said.

While some believe the bill is short of funding, PCI's Mr. Gillespie sees it as a positive effort that is a “meaningful federal response to the troublesome national opioid epidemic.” States should take advantage of the grants that are made to them through federal grants, he said.

States also need to continue to strengthen their drug monitoring programs and adopt evidence-based treatment guidelines and closed pharmaceutical formularies in order to prevent unnecessary opioid addiction and dependence, Mr. Gillespie said.

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