HHS appoints 2 new advisers to tackle the opioid epidemic and drug pricing reform

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has created two new positions to lead efforts to bring down prescription drug costs and confront the opioid epidemic.

Daniel M. Best, the former corporate vice president of industry relations for CVS Health’s Medicare Part D business, will serve as senior adviser to the secretary for drug pricing reform. Brett Giroir, M.D., will add to his duties as the assistant secretary for health, serving in a dual role as a senior adviser to the secretary for mental health and opioid policy.

The appointments represent two of the four priorities HHS Secretary Alex Azar recently laid out as part of a “transformation agenda” for the agency.

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“Under President Trump, HHS has an historic opportunity to confront a number of America’s pressing health challenges, including the high price of prescription drugs and our country’s opioid crisis,” Azar said in a statement.

The Trump administration has outlined a number of policy changes it believes can drive down drug prices, and the president predicted during his State of the Union address that drug costs "will come down substantially." But skeptics argue that some of those changes—like making generic drugs free for Medicare patients, or moving expensive drug coverage out of Part D plans—would merely shift the cost and raise premiums. 

Best, who will help oversee some of those efforts, worked at Pfizer for 12 years prior to his time at CVS. HHS highlighted his expertise in the pharmaceutical industry generally, and his familiarity with Medicare Part D specifically, as critical to the task of trying to reduce prescription drug costs.

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Giroir, meanwhile, will help lead efforts to reduce opioid abuse. The administration has outlined a three-pronged approach to controlling the epidemic that features more awareness and tougher convictions for drug dealers

A four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Giroir previously directed the Defense Sciences Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Azar pointed to his previous experience on large-scale federal projects as a key factor in having him tackle opioid addiction.

Giroir’s addition to the team comes just a week after HHS announced the appointment of longtime AIDS researcher Robert R. Redfield, M.D., to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Redfield’s work on opioid addiction and support of medical-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, an approach favored by Azar, reportedly played a role in the appointment.