KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Senator, Concerned About Pharma’s Influence, Asks HHS To Delay Opioid Workshop

The workshop, hosted by the Food and Drug Administration, is designed to review the ways that physicians can treat pain and safely prescribe opioids. But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is concerned that the preliminary list of groups that are scheduled to participate in the workshop have ties to drugmakers. Meanwhile, states are being overwhelmed by the increased popularity of fentanyl.

Stat: Senator: Delay FDA Opioid Workshop Over Conflicts Of Interest
A US senator is urging the Department of Health and Human Services to delay a two-day workshop on opioid prescribing that is scheduled to start on Tuesday over concerns that some of the participating organizations have financial ties to drug makers that sell pain pills. In a letter last Friday to HHS Secretary Tom Price, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) urged HHS to review “serious” conflicts of interest in order to ensure a “genuine balance of views” and “diminish the influence of companies that have a financial stake in loosening opioid prescriber guidelines.” (Silverman, 5/8)

Modern Healthcare: Wyden Questions Conflicts Of Interest In FDA Opioid Training
A lawmaker has asked HHS and the FDA to postpone a workshop designed to train healthcare providers on ways to safely prescribe opioids, citing concerns that some participants have close ties to opioid makers. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, called on HHS to conduct a full conflict-of-interest review and ensure that participants have no financial ties or partnerships with opioid companies. (Johnson, 5/8)

Stateline: As Fentanyl Spreads, States Step Up Responses
A billboard on a main highway tallies the number of residents in this mostly rural county who have overdosed on prescription painkillers, heroin and other illicit opioids this year: 96 overdoses, 15 of them fatal. What the sign doesn’t say is that a large and growing number of those deaths are the result of fentanyl, a fast-acting drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and can kill users within seconds. Cheap and easy to produce, it is used by drug dealers to intensify the effects of heroin and other illicit drugs, often without the users’ knowledge. (Vestal, 5/8)

And in other news on the opioid epidemic —

Stat: As They Fight The Opioid Crisis, Counselors See A Grave New Threat: The GOP
Republicans have framed their bill as a way to give patients more freedom in their insurance choices, allowing them to buy plans that fit their needs instead of being mandated to buy coverage for services they would never use. But the bill’s huge cuts to Medicaid could cause millions of low-income people to lose coverage. The bill also give states the flexibility to redefine which “essential benefits” insurance plans must cover — and some could choose to make mental health and addiction coverage optional. That’s a harsh blow for the recovery community, which was just starting to feel — at last — as though they had the elements in place to at least start combating the epidemic. (Joseph, 5/9)

NPR: Public Restrooms Become Central To The Opioid Epidemic
A man named Eddie threads through the mid-afternoon crowd in Cambridge, Mass. He's headed for a sandwich shop, the first stop on a tour of public bathrooms. "I know all the bathrooms that I can and can't get high in," says Eddie, 39, pausing in front of the shop's plate glass windows, through which we can see a bathroom door. Eddie, whose last name we're not including because he uses illegal drugs, knows which restrooms along busy Massachusetts Avenue he can enter, at what hours and for how long. Several restaurants, offices and a social service agency in this neighborhood have closed their restrooms in recent months, but not this sandwich shop. (Bebinger, 5/8)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Cleveland Judge To Address U.S. Congress On Opioid Crisis 
A Cuyahoga County judge who has seen firsthand the ravages of the opioid epidemic has been invited to address members of U.S. Congress in Washington this week. Common Pleas Judge David Matia, who helped create Cuyahoga County's first drug court program in 2008, will speak at a Wednesday lunch briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building next to the U.S. Capitol, according to a news release Monday. (Shaffer, 5/8)

Georgia Health News: A Place That Pulls Addicts Back From The Brink 
Some policymakers in Georgia worry about the proliferation of these businesses in the state, and the General Assembly recently authorized a new legislative committee to scrutinize drug treatment centers more closely... Too many centers with too little regulation could expose desperate people to unnecessary risk. (Griffith, 5/8)

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