Opioid Epidemic Getting Worse, U.S. Officials Say

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A top public health official warned Thursday that the nation’s opioid epidemic is showing no signs of abating. “It is one of the few public health problems that is getting worse instead of better,” said Dr. Debra Houry of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USA Today Network reports.

Public health officials described an addiction crisis that has spiraled so out of control that it is far beyond the scope of any one agency to address. “We need all hands on deck,” said Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health. Officials from four federal health agencies delivered their dire assessment at the first in a series of hearings before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“The opioid crisis is tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health providers and law enforcement officials,” said committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

More than 300,000 Americans have died of an opioid overdose since 2000. There were at least 64,000 deaths in 2016, the highest number recorded in a single year. Federal agencies have undertaken steps to help deal with the problem. They include new programs to improve access to treatment, mobilize resources to increase the availability and quality of long-term recovery, and target high-risk individuals such as pregnant women and jail and prison inmates.

Democrats charged that the Trump administration has delayed critical steps that could provide relief to families suffering from opioid addiction. The administration has proposed slashing the budget for substance abuse and mental health programs, allowed the Justice Department to treat addiction as a criminal justice issue and attempted to end the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, which would eliminate insurance coverage for millions with substance abuse disorders, said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

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