Inside Elizabeth Warren's Plan To Address The Opioid Epidemic

Written by Craig Rogers, Posted on

The Opioid Crisis in America

Every year millions of Americans use opioids to manage pain. Doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases, but they just mask the pain—and reliance on opioids has led to the worst drug crisis in American history.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Physicians, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have issued guidelines and reports urging health care providers to pursue safe nondrug alternatives, including physical therapy, for most non–cancer-related pain treatment.

Physical therapists (PTs) treat pain through movement, hands-on care, and patient education—and by increasing physical activity you can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases. A recent study published in Health Services Research found that patients who saw a PT before trying other treatments for low back pain were 89% less likely to need an opioid prescription.

Statistics from the CDC, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the United States (US) Department of Health and Human Services reveal the gravity of the problem. 

1. In 2016, health care providers across the US wrote more than 214 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication—a rate of 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people.

2. As many as 1 in 5 people receive prescription opioids long-term for noncancer pain in primary care settings.

3. More than 11 million people abused prescription opioids in 2016.

4. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.

5. More than 40% of all US opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription opioid.

6. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66%) involved a prescription or illicit opioid. 

7. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the US is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

If you know someone in pain, encourage them to talk to their physician or PT about safe ways to manage pain.

The American Physical Therapy Association’s #ChoosePT campaign is raising awareness about the dangers of prescription opioids, and encourages consumers and prescribers to choose safer alternatives like physical therapy for most chronic pain management.

Inside Elizabeth Warren's Plan To Address The Opioid Epidemic

As more names are being thrown into the hat for the 2020 presidential race, only one has spoken up about her plans to address the opioid epidemic. Elizabeth Warren has made some strides to combat the opioid crisis during her time as a U.S. Senator, according to Vox, and plans to continue to do so during her run for the presidency.

In her time in Congress, she has made a push for additional research into alternatives to opioids. She has also voiced her opinions about President Donald Trump’s response to the epidemic, calling it “pathetic.” In 2018, Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act to Congress.

'They Can't Do It Alone' 

If put into play, the bill would spread $100 billion to various states and organizations to fight the crisis over a 10-year period.  “Our communities are on the front lines of the epidemic, and they’re working hard to fight back,” Warren tells Vox. “But they can’t do it alone. They can’t keep nibbling around the edges.”

is one of the few 2020 presidential candidates to have discussed a plan to confront the opioid epidemic. This could be because her state of Massachusetts has been hit particularly hard by the crisis with its drug overdose deaths at 31.8 per 100,000 in 2017, compared to the national average of 21.7.

The CARE Act, according to some experts, is one of the only plans presented with the potential to make a difference in the epidemic. Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, tells Vox that Warren’s bill “is the only one that really grasps the nettle of how big the problem is.” “Whatever else people might say about it, this is the first thing that really recognizes that [the opioid crisis] is a massive public health problem, like AIDS, and is not going to be solved by a tweak here, a tweak there,” he adds.

The $100 billion involved in the CARE Act would be used in various ways, according to Vox. Some would be given to local government and nonprofits and some would be spread to numerous states, territories and tribal governments.

This could be determined by overdose levels in certain areas, but some funding would also be given through a competitive grant process. The remaining funding would be dedicated to treatment, research, training and more access to overdose antidote naloxone. Despite the support of some experts, Warren and Cumming’s bill has not made great progress in Congress. In the House, according to Vox, it received only 81 cosponsors, and in the Senate, it got none.

Still, the two plan to reintroduce the bill in the coming months. Warren hasn’t hesitated to point out President Trump’s failure to deliver on his promises. In 2016, Trump said he would “spend the money” to confront the opioid epidemic. “The Trump administration has treated this crisis like a photo op,”

Warren tells Vox. “They talk a good game and produce nothing. Although the CARE Act likely would not be able to address the entire epidemic on its own. Resources make a difference,” she continued, “Not strong words. Not photo ops. But real money. Without real resources, the opioid crisis will continue to grow.”