What state-level strategies work against the opioid epidemic?

The opioid epidemic is a major issue in every state, but not all are tackling it in the same ways. The National Academy for State Health Policy, a nonpartisan group of state health officials, met recently with policymakers from a dozen states to talk about what they find challenging and what is effective. “States generally share a few common goals: prevent addiction, stop people from dying, and get people into treatment,” Kitty Purington writes for NASHP. The group identified strategies that are showing results:

  • Track opioid prescribing to keep drug-seeking patients from getting pain-pill prescriptions from multiple doctors.
  • Invest in harm reduction by training more people to administer naloxone and making the anti-overdose drug more readily available.
  • Build capacity for medication-assisted treatment. MAT is the gold standard for treating opioid addiction, but many areas, especially rural, don’t have access to it because of a lack of qualified prescribers or treatment facilities.
  • Watch newly freed addicts. The first two weeks after an opioid addict’s release from prison or jail is particularly dangerous, since users are much more likely to fatally overdose then. Rhode Island is trying to counter this by offering MAT to inmates statewide. While inmates can’t receive Medicaid benefits, NASHP suggests that states begin enrolling them before their release so they can access treatment as soon as possible.
  • Ensure access in rural areas. Rural residents often face higher barriers to treatment than suburban and urban residents, including transportation difficulties, lack of facilities and/or qualified prescribers, lack of broadband to access telehealth addiction services, and stigma.
  • Expand Medicaid. Addicts in states that have expanded Medicaid generally have more access to affordable treatment.