How Cities Can Fight the Opioid Epidemic With Life-Saving Medications

April 26, 2018 - (3 min read)

With the opioid crisis reaching epidemic levels, access to life-saving medications and treatments is helping cities and towns confront overdoses and underlying addictions.

In particular, the overdose-reversal medication naloxone, often available in a nasal spray under the trade name Narcan, has been broadly distributed to local first responders. Likewise, the powerful addiction treatment buprenorphine, known by the trade name Suboxone, is a standard part of successful evidence-based medication assisted treatments for those with substance use disorder.

The successful deployment of these two essential medications is the story of leadership actions by city officials as well as partnerships with the private and nonprofit sectors.

The combined effect of emergency application of naloxone at the time of an overdose, along with longer-term access to buprenorphine as part of the addiction recovery process, contributes to both saving and rebuilding lives impacted by addiction.

Recently, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams called on more Americans to carry naloxone. For cities that deploy this medication to police officers, ambulance crews, and emergency medical technicians, one access point for steady and cost-effective supply is the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance.

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In an environment where private sector firms are raising the price of naloxone — in accordance with increasing demand — U.S. Communities has held the price point steady for several years as a result of long-term contracts to support the city and county marketplace. The National League of Cities is a partner with U.S. Communities toward the goal of providing world class government procurement resources and solutions.

Buprenorphine is among the best medications for addiction recovery treatment. It is similar to methadone, the medicine used since 1947 to treat heroin addiction. Like all pharmaceuticals, buprenorphine is expensive. Not all health plans cover addiction treatments, to say nothing about those without any insurance at all. And even for those with strong coverage, may plans limit the extent of payments for certain drugs.

Fortunately, the prescription drug discount program from CVS Caremark can save people nearly 25 percent off the full retail cost of prescription medication. This discount program is accepted in more than 68,000 pharmacies nationwide and is a benefit of NLC membership thanks to the partnership with CVS Caremark.

City leaders are managing the opioid epidemic one life at a time. Through proactive leadership and creative partnerships, the benefits of life saving medications are available in countless cities and towns in support of the needs of residents.

It is these kinds of collaborations that will turn the tide of this epidemic and bring more and more individuals closer to full recovery.

About the author: Jim Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.