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Obama administration launches new initiatives to combat opioid abuse

October 21, 2015

By Jennifer Garvin

Charleston, W.Va. — President Barack Obama announced a new initiative Oct. 21 aimed at combatting the national epidemic of opioid abuse and other forms of drug abuse, including ways health care providers can improve the way they prescribe medications.

To launch the multipronged initiative, which also includes reducing heroin abuse, the president held a community forum in Charleston. Bringing families touched by addiction together with providers, law enforcement officers and community leaders, the president issued a memorandum mandating all health care professionals employed by the federal government be trained in responsible opioid prescribing.

"This is an American problem that cuts across all groups and affiliations," said President Obama, who shared that one of his goals going into office was to "restore a sense of balance" when it comes to the country's war on drugs.

"We continue to under invest in prevention and treatment," he said, adding that the good news is the "mindset is changing" thanks to bipartisan support.

The forum was at times emotional for the participants. Several times U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell wiped tears from her eyes. Sec. Burwell has long championed opioid abuse as a public health crisis, calling for the expansion of naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioids. The president shared that he couldn't help think of his two daughters. Parents in the audience and on stage spoke of witnessing their children's struggles firsthand and the frustrations they experienced looking for accessible treatment centers. An elementary school principal shared struggles with educating the children of addiction.

"More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes and the majority of those overdoses involve prescription medications," according to a White House release. A report from Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit organization focused on disease prevention reported in June that West Virginia is No. 1 for drug overdose deaths – at a rate of 33.5 per 100,000 people.

Dr. Dallas Nibert, president, West Virginia Dental Association, attended the forum on behalf of ADA. Watch the ADA News for updates.

For its part, the Association has committed to providing free prescriber continuing education and training to all dentists — members and nonmembers alike. The Association has also pledged to encourage dentists to register with their state prescription drug monitoring programs and to continue using member outreach tools to raise awareness.
In all, more than 40 provider groups have pledged to take actions to reach the initiative's goal of getting more than 540,000 health providers to complete prescriber training by 2017.

For more information on the initiative, read the White House release or watch the forum here.