HHS unveils drug overdose prevention plan to boost accessibility to care

HHS unveils drug overdose prevention plan to boost accessibility to care
© U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP, File

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraButtigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Boosters for all The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay MORE unveiled on Wednesday the Biden administration’s drug overdose prevention plan, aiming to increase access to care among those with substance use disorders.

The four-part HHS plan focuses on efforts to promote evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery support among those struggling with drug overuse and their families. 

The strategy comes as HHS released a report finding that more than 840,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. between 1999 and 2019, including about 93,000 last year during the COVID-19 pandemic when overdose fatalities rose. In the report, HHS labels confronting these overdose deaths as “a top priority” for the department. 

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The administration intends to funnel more resources into researching testing strips that detect the strong opiate fentanyl sometimes hidden in drugs, supporting syringe distribution and exchange services, and boosting access to opioid overdose reversal treatments such as the drug naloxone. 

Goals for improving prevention range from supporting the advancement of pain management treatments to reducing “clinically inappropriate” prescriptions with “misuse potential.” The plan also aims to develop, improve and extend access to treatments and recovery services for those who currently have a substance use disorder. 

In a statement, Becerra said the strategy is “breaking new ground to address the full range of drug use and addiction.”

“We’re changing the way we address overdoses,” he said. “Our new strategy focuses on people — putting the very individuals who have struggled with addiction in positions of power.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also announced on Wednesday an education campaign focused on reducing overdose deaths. 

The campaign that targets 18- to 34-year-olds plans to teach about the risks of fentanyl and of mixing drugs as well as about naloxone, the drug that serves as an antidote to opioid overdoses.

“This critical information can help all of us save a life from overdose and support people who use drugs in treatment and recovery,” said Debra Houry, acting principal deputy director of CDC.  

The CDC estimates that drug overdose deaths reached new heights last year, with preliminary data showing a record of almost 97,000 deaths in the 12-month period ending in March.