HHS chief pitches new measures to expand opioid addiction treatment

HHS chief pitches new measures to expand opioid addiction treatment
© Greg Nash

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is touting medication-assisted treatment (MAT) as a crucial component of stemming the opioid crisis plaguing the nation.

In his first extensive remarks on the opioid epidemic, set to be delivered Saturday, Azar announces two measures aimed at increasing this form of treatment.

“Medication-assisted treatment works,” Azar says in prepared remarks for a session of the National Governors Association's winter meeting that were shared with The Hill. “The evidence on this is voluminous and ever growing.”


Addiction experts have long touted medication-assisted treatment — which aims to couple medicine with therapy — as a gold standard of treatment for an opioid addiction.

Azar’s remarks Saturday point to the challenge in obtaining this form of treatment. He said that about one-third of speciality substance abuse treatment programs offer MAT, calling failing to do so “like trying to treat an infection without antibiotics.”

“Under this administration, we want to raise that one-third number—in fact, it will be nigh impossible to turn the tide on this epidemic without doing so,” Azar says.

The Trump official says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will release two new draft guidances "soon."

Buprenorphine is one form of medication-assisted treatment. In November, the FDA approved the first monthly injection of Buprenorphine, aimed at making it easier to adhere to the medication.

The FDA will draft guidance to clarify what kind of evidence manufacturers that are trying to develop new forms of the medication need in order obtain approval for monthly injectable forms of buprenorphine.

The agency will also draft guidance aimed at “encourag[ing] more flexible and creative designs of MAT studies.” Researchers will be tasked with developing new ways to evaluate the effects of MAT formulations.

The opioid epidemic has ravaged areas across the country, and has shown no sign of stopping. Deaths from opioid overdoses increased nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In late October, President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE declared the epidemic a public health emergency. Months later, however, some advocates had expressed frustration that it hadn’t led to much concrete action. In mid-January, the administration extended the emergency declaration another 90 days.

Advocates had also been pushing for more funding, saying a robust infusion of federal dollars is needed to curb the crisis.

A budget deal passed earlier this month included $6 billion over two years for the opioid and mental health crises. Trump’s budget proposed $10 billion in funding to address the opioid epidemic for fiscal 2019.

Congress will also examine bills aimed at curbing the epidemic, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee will kick off its legislative push on Wednesday.