President Obama will announce steps today aimed at reducing an alarming rise in deaths from drug overdoses, including mandating more training for federal doctors and requiring federal health insurance plans to provide treatment for addiction, the New York Times reports. Obama will make an announcement in West Virginia, where addiction to prescription painkillers has devastated communities for more than a decade. “Since the start of this administration and the president's inaugural drug strategy, we identified prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse as crucial problems,” said a senior White House official.
The administration has sought to curb out-of-control prescribing practices while ensuring that cancer patients and others in profound pain can get needed treatment. Last year, the federal government tightened rules for prescribing hydrocodone, the most commonly prescribed painkiller, which is in such drugs as Vicodin. The efforts being announced today are expected to have only modest effects. States, not the federal government, regulate the practice of medicine, and only 10 states, including West Virginia, require that doctors who prescribe opioids get specialized training. Abuse of painkillers is one of the few public health problems that have worsened significantly during Obama's presidency. More than 20,000 people in the U.S. die from prescription drug abuse each year, a level that has risen fourfold since 1999, making it the nation's leading cause of death by injury. Opioid prescriptions during that time also quadrupled.