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How the APA Is Helping Address America’s Opioid Crisis


The opioid crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions. Every state is affected, but some worse than others. As I’ve watched the presidential candidates take their campaigns through New Hampshire, it’s clear voters there see this as a top-of-mind issue.

And it should be. The social, economic and human costs of this epidemic have reached a point where they are not only untenable, but the over-prescription and subsequent addiction to opioids represents a significant public health concern to this country. That’s why the APA has joined a task force led by the American Medical Association to help address the crisis.

The task force is comprised of more than two dozen physician organizations and state medical societies, as well as the American Dental Association. All task force members are committed to identifying the best practices to combat this public health crisis and moving to implement them swiftly. Coming from the substance use treatment world as I do, I truly believe this is an unprecedented and much needed effort.

Initially, this task force is focusing on encouraging physicians to register for and use state-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) as part of their decision-making process when considering treatment options. As the former head of the Washington D.C. Department of Health, I saw first-hand that PDMPs have been shown to be effective in helping physicians identify patients who may be misusing opioids.

While PDMPs can provide physicians with invaluable clinical information, they alone are not enough to curb the opioid crisis in this country. Robust education programs focused on safe, evidence-based prescription of opioids are an essential part of the task force’s efforts moving forward.

By The Numbers

  • Deaths from prescription painkillers have also quadrupled since 1999, killing more than 16,000 people in the U.S. in 2013.
  • Nearly two million Americans, aged 12 or older, either abused or were dependent on opioids in 2013.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Stigma has also played a huge role in the evolution of America’s opioid crisis. As psychiatrists we can and should take an active role in reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorder, thereby enhancing access to treatment. The APA maintains that substance use disorder is a medical condition that can be successfully treated, and we are actively advocating on behalf of the patients who are too often stigmatized by their community and disenfranchised by insurance carriers who fail to comply with mental health parity laws.

The APA is fully committed to helping this task force combat the opioid crisis gripping the nation. We’ll do this by ensuring that psychiatrists take a leading role in educating both the public and their colleagues in the House of Medicine about the cost of stigmatizing substance use disorder, and advocating for the full range of psychological, rehabilitative, and pharmacologic care that our patients are due by law to receive as part of mental health parity laws.

Overcoming the crisis is a significant undertaking, but there is no better time to start than now, and no better collection of medical minds to collaborate finding a solution to this problem.

What APA is Doing for You

This blog post is part of an occasional series highlighting how APA advocates on your behalf to support the profession of psychiatry and put our interests before key policymakers.


CEO BlogWhat APA is Doing for You


Comments (1) Add a Comment

  • Carl Rollynn Sullivan

    Thank you Saul for highlighting the APA's efforts to deal with our country's opioid epidemic. Psychiatry and Psychiatrists must lead in the treatment of this very complicated disease.


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