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ICYMI: Prioritize alternatives to addictive painkillers to fight opioid crisis

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Washington, March 2, 2018 | comments

Prioritize alternatives to addictive painkillers to fight opioid crisis
By: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell
March 2, 2018
Detroit Free Press 

The numbers are shocking. It’s estimated that more than 1,000 men and women are treated in emergency rooms daily for misusing prescription painkillers; and as a nation, we’re spending more than $500 billion annually in health and social costs to combat this epidemic. While opioid abuse and addiction continues to damage the lives of millions and appears to have no end in sight, the solution has never been clearer: Innovation can help reverse this staggering trend. While it’s true there is no magic-wand or quick fix to addressing this issue, we must recognize that if we’re going to achieve an addiction free nation, it will depend on smart science and a regulatory environment that promotes pain management alternatives.

Using better science to understand the biology of pain and addiction is the first step in combating this devastating crisis. With the help of our colleagues in Congress, we have a unique opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in the world and we must tap these tools and resources to overcome this challenge. World-class institutions like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can all play a role in this important process, but it’s not until they simultaneously share resources, collect and analyze data, and answer important questions can our country can begin to move forward.  

To this end, we have introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 5002, the Advancing Cutting-Edge (ACE) Research Act. This forward-looking legislation will spur urgently needed research on new non-addictive pain medications. Twenty-five million Americans suffer from pain every day, and it is essential that non-addictive medications are available to them. Specifically, this legislation provides the NIH with new, flexible authorities to conduct innovative research on ways to prevent, treat, and cures diseases, including vital research to respond to public health threats such as the opioid epidemic.

Further, we must realize that the private-sector can also be an important partner in combatting this public health crisis. The fact is the private sector is already working hard on innovative technologies and treatments to better manage pain and addiction. One biotechnology company has developed a lidocaine shot that can be injected directly into a patient’s surgical site – numbing the area for days and reducing or eliminating the need for opioid painkillers. By the time the injection wears off, you’ve avoided the window of risk where dependence on opioids often begins. Other treatments in development include an injectable that treats knee pain using capsaicin – a byproduct of chili peppers.

These innovative advances in science are waiting for their chance to change the way we treat and manage pain, but what good is a breakthrough treatment if it’s unavailable to the patient who needs it? What we see time and time again is insurance coverage, reimbursement, and regulatory challenges that stand between patients and opioid alternatives. We must pursue innovative solutions if we want to leave our children with better options than we have today. That’s why Congress should authorize and direct CMS to develop an Opioid Action Plan focused on removing barriers that are preventing patient-centric decisions about and access to the most effective treatments for pain and addiction. For America to succeed and end opioid abuse and addiction, we must adopt a system that puts patients first.

We must also ensure investments in the research and development (R&D) of new cures and therapies is on par with other prevalent disease areas. The truth is, over the past 10 years, venture investment in cancer treatments was seventeen times greater than investment in pain management programs. Given the enormous personal costs of the epidemic in lost lives and suffering family members – coupled with the tremendous economic costs of this epidemic, that disparity should be unacceptable. Congress must work to authorize and direct the FDA to enhance and improve the expedited approval pathways for these critical products.

We can innovate our way out of the opioid crisis, but to do so we must face the challenges that stand in our way. It’s essential that we speed the commercialization of new, non-addictive painkillers – and ensure that neuroscience breakthroughs to treat opioid addiction are more accessible to patients. Folks here in Michigan and across the country are counting on the power of innovation. Let’s give them what they deserve.


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