Secretary Azar Talks Opioid Strategy with NGA

BIOtech Now
Andrew Segerman

Recently, HHS Secretary Alex Azar joined the National Governors Association to discuss opioid addiction and abuse in America. While we can all agree that there is no silver bullet to solving this problem, Secretary Azar outlined several proposals – consistent with recommendations BIO recently released – that the public and private sectors can take to help prevent opioid use disorders in current and future generations.

Understand the Foundations of Pain and Addiction

“We have to understand this crisis in order to stop it,” Azar noted, which BIO has also identified as the first step in moving forward. Before we can develop novel, safer treatments, we must better understand the biology underlying pain and addiction. Government entities like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can advance basic research which allow for health care professionals, as well as biopharmaceutical innovators, to better understand how to safely treat and manage pain and addiction.

Utilize Resources from the Public and Private Sectors

“We clearly need more tools to help us win this fight, which is why HHS supports cutting edge research on pain and addiction … The potential advances we’re seeing at NIH and in the private sector—like non-addictive painkillers and new methods of addiction treatment—are incredible,” Azar added.

It’s true: many promising, innovative treatments are under development that have the potential to transform the standard of care for pain and addiction. For example, scientists have created an injectable that treats knee pain using capsaicin, a by-product produced of chili peppers; and new therapies that target the body’s peripheral nervous system to treat pain without inducing addictive side effects are on the horizon.

Yet while the future is bright, we must do more. A new report from BIO shows that there isn’t the same level of investment committed to pain and addiction research as there are for other diseases that also inflict a heavy toll on patients and society. For example, the oncology pipeline currently has 2,671 total active clinical programs – that’s more than 10 times the number found in the pain pipeline (220).

That’s why we’ve recommended several policies that will stimulate research and development of innovative treatments that effectively treat pain and opioid addiction and prevent abuse, including modernizing drug development and review processes.

Break Barriers and Expand Access to Safer, Novel Treatments

“People in communities all across America—in our own cities and towns—are alive today because of the progress that has been made in making drugs like naloxone available when and where they’re needed. … [W]e’re committed to working with you to ensure communities have access to these lifesaving drugs,” Azar told the group.

He also noted that, “Medication-assisted treatment works. The evidence on this is voluminous and ever growing.” We couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, not all patients have access to the same medicines and cures. As we see time and time again, restrictive insurance coverage and reimbursement policies are often standing between patients and the  most appropriate pain and addiction treatment. As we’ve pointed out before, we must break the barriers that impede patients’ access to the most appropriate treatments – including medication assisted treatment – and stimulate the development of novel and safer therapies to manage this growing public health crisis.

At BIO, we are committed to developing innovative solutions that will allow for an America free of prescription opioid addiction. Learn about our efforts here and check out our refreshed Toolkit for Advocates to find the latest materials and resources on this important issue.

Full BIOtech Now Article here

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