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Opioid coalition backed by big names

June 2, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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What’s different about the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose is not so much its agenda as its backers. Three pharmaceutical companies, a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) provider and a genetic testing company all have pledged financial sponsorship.

According to officials, the formation of the coalition was fostered by ASAM, which provided the initial—and, to date, the majority of—financial support and resources. ASAM has also been actively soliciting financial sponsorship from not-for-profit and for-profit companies, including health plans and additional pharmaceutical companies, treatment providers and diagnostic companies.

It’s not unusual for manufacturers in the $376 billion U.S. pharma market to plunk down cash to help drive favorable legislation or activate awareness efforts, and the dollar amounts could be significant.

Coalition common ground

Launched in May, the new coalition aims to drive legislative priorities to address the opioid crisis. Its roll of nearly 30 industry member organizations ranges from the American College of Emergency Physicians to the Connecticut Certification Board. According to Susan Awad, director of advocacy and government relations for ASAM, three new members were set to sign on this week.

To start, the participating members are identifying common ground to establish talking points, says Yngvild Olsen, who chairs the ASAM Public Policy Committee and is medical director of the Institutes for Behavior Resources Inc./REACH Health Services. For example, they are advocating for the advancement of opioid-related legislation, especially the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which is now awaiting a combined House and Senate conference committee’s final markup.

“Any one of those efforts or any one of the multiple bills that are moving through Congress are great, but they are really not sufficient in and of themselves,” Olsen tells Behavioral Healthcare. “When we look at the opioid epidemic—which has gotten the attention of lawmakers—but also substance use disorder and addiction in general, we know that in order to effectively address them, we need prevention, treatment and recovery support services.”

Olsen says if the president signs CARA into law by the forecasted July 4 date, the coalition’s advocacy at that point would be far from over. While CARA authorizes funding for a number of initiatives, it doesn’t actually appropriate federal money, something the coalition members believe must be better remedied.

“In the long run, whatever gets passed and what the president signs will also need to be implemented,” she says. “There is a rulemaking process and adoption of regulations, and we can have input on the process, so for whatever legislation comes out, it will be implemented well on the ground.”

Broad efforts

The coalition will also approach lawmakers to advocate for improved access to MAT, coprescribing of naloxone with opioids as well as better education for opioid prescribers.

Olsen says the recent approval of the buprenorphine implant is a positive development, and the coalition will look further into the adoption of the new delivery mechanism and its comparative price. Similarly, she says, providers have been talking about naloxone’s dramatic cost increase in a broader context.

“I know there are efforts in Congress and at state and city levels to have manufacturers look at pricing,” she says. “That hopefully would be taken into consideration by the manufacturers. They need to put some price on it, but the balance of access and public health impact of the epidemic should factor in as well.”