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Trying to solve "the worst epidemic in U.S history"

Chuck Kennedy / Axios

At an Axios and HBO Documentary Films presentation of the documentary, "Warning: This Drug May Kill You," Dr. Andrew Kolodny of Brandeis University put the urgency of the opioid crisis in context: "It truly is the worst epidemic in United States history."

Senator Rob Portman said the solution must start with drug companies: "They need to come up with non-addictive pain medication."

How the epidemic started: According to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the healthcare system doesn't train doctors on when to prescribe opioids, and "there is still very little recognition of addiction as a disease."

Potential solutions:

  • Alternative treatments: Dr. Volkow called for investment into alternative pain medication. Dr. Kolodny noted that as doctors started prescribing more and more opioid pain meds "there was actually less prescribing non-addictive pain meds," like Tylenol and Advil.
  • The big picture: According to Congressman Tim Ryan, "You've got to focus on the prevention, then the punishment, the criminal justice side, then you've got to isolate the addicted" and get them treatment.
  • The legislation: The Cures Act, which makes $500 million available via grant application, and the Comprehensive Care & Addiction Act, which Portman says has a more long term focus and will be a "stronger bill over time." Portman said he also wants to require pharmacists to register doctors and help them to identify addicts.
  • Stopping Fentanyl shipments: Fentanyl, a type of opioid which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is coming into the U.S. primarily through shipments from China, and people are dying at an increasing rate from overdoses from it. Portman says the shipments must be stopped and that can be done by working with FedEx and UPS and law enforcement.

For perspective on the opioid epidemic, check out our Facts Matter here.