Pharmacists on care teams highlighted at White House opioids summit

APhA attended the event, where Trump announced new policies are forthcoming

On March 1, 2018, the White House convened an opioid summit that included government leaders and other stakeholders working to fight the opioid epidemic. The summit featured two panels on the administration’s efforts regarding prevention, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement and interdiction.

Panelists and speakers included First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Alex Azar, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Sec. Ben Carson, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the newly appointed acting director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy James W. Carroll and, in a surprise appearance, President Donald Trump himself, also delivered remarks.

APhA was pleased to accept the White House’s invitation to attend the event.

Pharmacists were specifically called out by U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin, who touted pharmacists’ education of prescribers on opioid use as an element affecting his department’s 90% reduction of new opioid prescriptions. Shulkin also noted pharmacists as members of team-based care models in the VA that are actively fighting the opioid epidemic and caring for patients in pain.

The summit represents the administration’s continued prioritization of the opioid epidemic. “[At] HHS and across this administration, we know that we need to treat addiction as a medical challenge, not as a moral failing,” Azar said in his remarks.

At the summit, administration officials discussed plans to combat the opioid epidemic, including budget proposals, drug take-back programs, medication-assisted treatment, technology solutions, new long-term recovery models, state Medicaid waivers, and federal plans to engage in litigation against opioid manufacturers.

Azar described budget increases for treatment, naloxone, and community health centers. In response to a question from the audience regarding referral and coverage of treatment, Azar also said HHS will review reimbursement systems and launch a media campaign to help reduce stigma, among other efforts.

In his surprise remarks—he was not expected to attend the summit—Trump said, “The administration is going to be rolling out policy over the next three weeks, and it will be very, very strong.” He added, “I've spoken with Jeff [Sessions] about bringing a lawsuit against some of these opioid companies,” indicating forthcoming litigation in opposition to pharmaceutical companies.

Trump’s announcement of policies to roll out in the coming weeks coincides with the February 27 introduction of a package of bipartisan bills, known as “CARA 2.0” in the U.S. Senate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hosted the first of three hearings on opioids the same day. The U.S. House is also holding hearings and seeking feedback on several policy proposals.

“APhA will remain highly engaged on this issue,” said Jenna Ventresca, APhA director of health policy. Ventresca represented APhA at the White House summit.

In addition to the Trumps, Shulkin, Azar, Carson, Sessions, and Carroll, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kristjen Nielson and U.S. Department of State Deputy Sec. John Sullivan also spoke at the summit. Kellyanne Conway served as moderator.