Efforts to curb opioid epidemic remain top priority for CMS

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Despite efforts, opioid fatalities continue to increase.

With drug overdoses continuing to rise as the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has made the opioid epidemic a top priority.

In a post on the CMS blog, two agency officials summarized efforts to combat opioid misuse and opioid use disorder.

“We are working with Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, their families and caregivers, healthcare providers, health insurance plans and states to improve how opioids are prescribed by providers and used by beneficiaries, how opioid use disorder is identified and managed and how alternative approaches to pain management can be promoted,” wrote Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., director of the center for program integrity and Kate Goodrich, M.D., director of the center for clinical standards and quality.

In the coming weeks, CMS said it anticipates releasing statements about its Medicare and Medicaid goals, as well as priority work in collaboration with private payers, the two officials said.

Along with raising awareness of new guidelines for prescribing opioids released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, CMS is promoting resources and programs that support providers, such as training on medication-assisted treatment, methods for screening and tracking patients at high risk for an overdose and policies regarding naloxone availability and use, they said.

Despite the efforts to fight the opioid crisis, the epidemic shows no sign of receding, with the latest data from several hard-hit cities and states in early 2016 showing overdose fatalities reaching new peaks, according to The Wall Street Journal. The synthetic opioid fentanyl is the chief cause of the increase in fatalities.

In an examination of the epidemic, which killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, The New York Times recently told the stories of seven states looking for a way out of the problem.

One doctor, Cheryl Karcher, M.D., a dermatologist who got addicted to painkillers, told her story of recovery to ethicist Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., in an interview (reg. req.) with Medscape. She got help through 12-step programs, finding one program specifically for addicted physicians particularly helpful, she said. She wanted to tell her story to help other physicians with addiction problems.

“It is a nationwide issue and it is an issue that has to be discussed,” she said.

In Maryland, opioid users are filling hospital beds and emergency rooms, reported The Baltimore Sun. Maryland has the country’s highest rate of hospitalizations for opioid use, with tens of thousands of people admitted to hospitals or visiting emergency rooms each year for opioid withdrawal, overdoses or complications, according to data from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.