HCN News & Notes

Markey, Delegation Call for Greater Access to Opioid Overdose Prevention Treatment

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent Wednesday to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and eight members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation called on the agency to take action to support broader access to the opioid overdose prevention treatment, naloxone.

There has been much documented success preventing fatalities with the use of naloxone by medical professionals and first responders, and there has been a recent movement to expand access to the overdose treatment for use by trained community and family members, who are most likely to be present during an opioid overdose.

More than 1,000 people died of an opioid overdose last year in Massachusetts. The Mass. Department of Public Health (MDPH), which collects rescue reports on episodes where non-medical bystanders/community members use naloxone supplied by MDPH, has documented 5,000 rescues, with more than 1,000 of them reported in 2015, so far. Joining Senator Markey on the letter are Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, William Keating, Joe Kennedy, and Richard Neal.

“The routine practice of distributing naloxone or co-prescribing naloxone with prescriptions for opioid painkillers may help to get naloxone into households that may otherwise not have easy access to this life-saving antidote,” write the lawmakers in the letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Thousands of Americans who are currently taking prescription opioid painkillers, whether legitimately for the treatment of pain or illicitly without doctor supervision, could potentially be saved from accidental overdose by having wider access to naloxone.”

In the letter, the lawmakers call on HHS to explore issuing recommendations that could be used to institute best practices for co-prescribing naloxone with opioid painkillers and examine establishing demonstration programs, encouraging federally funded health centers to adopt policies for co-prescribing, and reducing payment barriers for naloxone coverage and reimbursement.