Reducing the Opioid Abuse Epidemic

by Michael Wong, JD (Executive Director, Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety)

Congress has been busy trying to pass a slew of bills that may help reduce the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.

To better understand why diversion, misuse, abuse, and overdose of opioids is a bipartisan issue that requires people from both sides of the aisle to come together, I interviewed Michael C. Barnes, Esq. (Executive Director, Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence).

Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD) -
Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD) –

Wong: What is the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence and what does it seek to achieve?

Barnes: The not-for-profit Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD) works to reduce prescription drug fraud, diversion, misuse, and abuse while advancing consumer access to high-quality health care.

We address this public health need by gathering and synthesizing information, disseminating our analysis, building coalitions, developing cross-industry consensus, and recommending sound public policies.

Wong: Why should we be concerned about the diversion, misuse, abuse, and overdose of prescription opioids and heroin?

Barnes: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths involving prescription opioids and heroin have reached epidemic proportions. Over 29,000 Americans died from opioid and heroin related overdoses in 2014, with 18,893 deaths involving prescription opioid pain medications and 10,574 deaths involving heroin. An estimated 4.3 million Americans abuse opioids each year, while an estimated 2.5 million Americans are dependent on opioids. Additionally 517,000 people had a heroin use disorder in 2013 compared with 189,000 in 2002.

Wong: What has CLAAD been doing to address this issue?

Barnes: CLAAD has brought together health professionals, law enforcement, businesses, government officials, and others to share resources and work together to improve public health and safety. We foster collaboration among the multiple sectors of society that had previously been working concurrently, yet not in unison, to address the growing national concern for prescription medication abuse. For the past seven years, CLAAD has convened the National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Policy Consensus Meeting to consult with experts and leaders of professional associations and public health and safety organizations from across the country. The goal of each meeting was to generate consensus on proactive policy strategies that address the U.S. prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Wong: Do you think these meetings have been successful?

Barnes: Yes, through these meetings, we have been able to create widely-endorsed four iterations of the National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy (“National Strategy”), which documents the policy priorities established in the annual consensus meetings. The National Strategy laid an early foundation for coordinated, multi-sector efforts to reduce prescription drug abuse. By 2011, the federal government’s National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan adopted 95 percent of the consensus-based policy recommendations in the National Strategy. Since 2011, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which coordinates the federal government’s substance abuse prevention policy efforts, had effectively expressed support for all of the National Strategy’s proposals. The Congressional Research Service and executive and legislative officials in at least 20 states have looked to the National Strategy in researching and formulating policy to reduce prescription drug abuse. Numerous commercial entities have also heeded the National Strategy’s call for private-sector leadership to reduce prescription drug abuse in areas such as research and development, product safety, and public awareness.

Wong: What do you say to the post-surgical patients coming out of heart surgery or the chronic back pain sufferer who fears that CLAAD might take their opioids away from them?

Barnes: CLAAD calls for ensuring appropriate access to legally prescribed medications for consumers with legitimate needs. CLAAD’s focus is on deterring diversion, misuse, and abuse of controlled prescription medications while enhancing access to high quality care consumers whose health or treatment has been affected by this epidemic, namely people with pain, addiction, HIV, hepatitis C, and other health conditions.

Wong: What else can opioid prescribers do about this opioid epidemic?

Barnes: Engage in continuing professional education, follow best practices, and include patient counseling on safe storage, use, and disposal of controlled prescription medications.

More information on what can be done to address the opioid abuse epidemic can be found at

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