Local opioid research contributing to national plan to curb deaths, addiction

SA doctor skeptical but hopeful the PhRMA resources will be used immediately

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Texas saw 1,186 opioid-related deaths in 2015 and experts say the problem is only getting worse.

In response to numbers like this nationwide, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Addiction Policy Forum have announced a new four-year plan.

Some doctors are skeptical but hopeful that PhRMA's vision becomes a reality.

LINK: KSAT.com opioid addiction information center

UT Health San Antonio Associate Psychiatry Professor Dr. Jennifer Potter believes it's not too late to fix the opioid crisis, but said plans are way overdue.

"Here we are in 2018 and we're having conversations that many of us saw coming in 2005 and earlier," she said.

Potter said experts in the field know what needs to be done, they just don't have the resources to do it.

"It's about dealing with families, dealing with the criminal justice system, addressing the needs of the local communities, educating physicians," she said.

Almost all of that is outlined in the Addiction Policy Forum's new multi-million dollar 8-point plan.

It all starts with breaking the stigma around addiction.

WATCH – Opioid Nation: An American Epidemic

"It's very difficult for people to come forward because often they are judged," Potter said. 

Another piece of the plan is accelerating development of new non-opioid treatments. The project is being led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health, the latter of which works directly with UT Health San Antonio.

"One approach might be to take an opioid and alter its chemical structure in such a way that it might not be abusive. Another way is to look at entirely new drugs that work in different areas of the brain to understand how they can alleviate pain as well," Potter explained. 

The Addiction Policy Forum reported there are about 40 treatments being tested.

Potter finally sees a sense of urgency and hopes it will continue. 

"I listen to what people do, not what they say. If they make these resources available, addiction treatment in this country could be state of the art," she said.

The plan also proposes policy changes:

  • Limiting the supply of opioid medications to seven days for acute pain with clear exemptions 
  • Mandating prescriber training to ensure appropriate treatment 
  • Eliminating coverage barriers that keep patients from accessing all forms of addiction treatment

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