WASHINGTON – While drugs that combat rising U.S. heroin addiction and overdose rates exist and new versions are on the way, access is too limited and treatment is too decentralized to be effective, a group of medical experts told a House task force Monday.
Heroin-related overdose death rates jumped 39 percent from 2012 to 2013 and 286 percent from 2002 to 2013, according to a recent study on heroin use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan, is a proven antidote for opioid poisoning, said Dr. Melinda Campopiano, a medical officer at the Division of Pharmacologic Therapies for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Naloxone has the shocking ability to take someone without life and bring that person back,” Campopiano said. “It is essential that people have access to it when they need it. That means making it available to people who are leaving incarceration … detox … rehab — that are extremely vulnerable to exposure.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has developed a nasal spray form of Naloxone that should be on the market around November, said Deputy Director Dr. Wilson Compton. He also noted NIDA has focused on long-acting extended-release forms of medications like Buprenorphine that allow patients to avoid the tough choice to stay sober on a daily basis.
“We are interested in this idea of an implantable Buprenorphine device that only needs to be implanted once every six months,” Compton said. “This was submitted to the (Food and Drug Administration) in September and is under an expedited review so we expect an answer within the next couple of months.”
But even if drugs become more accessible, doctors are limited to a set number of patients with opioid addiction and decentralization of treatment options makes it tougher for people to get proper care under the current model, Campopiano said.
“Choosing the right medication for a person should be what drives what somebody gets,” she said. “(But) there is no one place a patient can go to and say, ‘Assess me and give me the appropriate treatment’ because of the way the system is chopped up.”
The Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, headed by New Hampshire’s two House members, plans to draft “legislation that will start to change the tide of this epidemic,” Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said. The next meeting will take place in the first or second week of February, according to an aide for Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H.