Jeanette Contreras portrait

La tercera vacuna trae esperanza

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras

La Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos de los EE. UU. (FDA, por sus siglas en inglés) acaba de aprobar una autorización de uso de emergencia para la vacuna de Johnson & Johnson, la tercera vacuna para combatir el coronavirus en EEUU. Aunque parece que no es tan efectiva como las otras dos, la vacuna de Johnson & Johnson ofrece una protección de 85 por ciento contra casos severos de COVID-19 y 100 por ciento de eficacia para evitar hospitalización y mortalidad, a causa del COVID-19. Con solo una dosis, esta vacuna ofrece protección de 72 por ciento contra el COVID-19 que ultimadamente ayuda controlar la pandemia en la población y alcanzar un nivel de inmunidad necesaria para regresar a la vida normal.

Una ventaja enorme de esta vacuna en términos de administración, es que se puede mantener en refrigeración normal por meses. Las otras vacunas requieren mantenimiento de temperatura súper baja en refrigeradores industriales que solo se encuentran en hospitales grandes. La vacuna de Johnson & Johnson es ideal para distribuir a comunidades rurales y en clínicas comunitarias. La aprobación de esta tercera vacuna, aumenta la disponibilidad y nos da esperanza de poder vacunar a más personas, más rápido con solo una dosis.

Sabemos que la comunidad Latina sufre de una taza de contagio más alta que otros grupos. Latinos constituyen una gran cantidad de empleados en trabajos esenciales con alto riesgo de contagio, como en la producción de comida y en puestos de trabajo de pequeños negocios. Mientras muchos esperan vacunarse, otros tendrán dudas o miedo de vacunarse. La campaña Depende De Ti nos asegura que es normal tener preguntas y ofrece información y respuestas en Español para educar a la comunidad latina.

Campañas educativas como esta son necesaria para combatir información falsa y mitos que circulan en las redes sociales. Se escuchan mitos que las vacunas en general hacen daño o que alteran o cambian el ADN. Sin embargo, está comprobado científicamente por siglos que las vacunas han salvado vidas y nos han protegido. Los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC, por sus siglas en inglés) tiene una página dedicada a información para derribar los mitos más frecuentes acerca de estas vacunas.

Para alentar a la población a vacunarse, muchas empresas grandes están ofreciendo tiempo pagado o incentivos financieros a los empleados que se vacunan. Por ejemplo, supermercados como Publix les da $125 y Kroger les da $100 a empleados cuando reciben la vacuna completa. Dollar General les aumenta cuatro horas de pago normal a los que se vacunan.

Gracias a la autorización de la nueva vacuna, Presidente Biden afirma que para el fin de mayo habrá vacunas para todos los adultos en EEUU. Las personas que deciden vacunarse, pueden buscar información confiable en el recurso de Telemundo – PlanificaTuVacuna.com para verificar la elegibilidad de acuerdo a las ordenes de cada estado.

Script Your Future launches tenth annual student competition for innovations in medication adherence

February 1, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today marks the launch of the tenth annual Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge, a two-month-long intercollegiate competition among health profession student teams and faculty for creating solutions to raise awareness about medication adherence as a critical public health issue. The Challenge, hosted by the National Consumers League (NCL), is returning to university campuses across the country after nine years of successful student competition and innovation.

The Challenge is an integral part of Script Your Future, a campaign launched by NCL and its partners in 2011 to combat the problem of poor medication adherence in the United States, where nearly three out of four patients do not take their medication as directed.

“Today’s medications are better than ever at treating and curing people, but these treatments can only work if patients know the importance of taking their prescriptions as directed. It takes all members of the health team to make that happen,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “For 10 years, our Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge has galvanized student health professionals to explore creative, interprofessional approaches, in encouraging medication adherence. To usher Script Your Future into the next era of improving adherence, we have implemented two new components to the Team Challenge: technology innovation and vaccine adherence. We have been blown away by the ingenuity of our student teams, and we look forward to how they will contribute to their communities in this year’s Team Challenge.”

As the nation continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Script Your Future teams are encouraged to build their campaigns centering around vaccine confidence to help address hesitancy and mitigate further spread of the coronavirus. Teams are encouraged to tailor their outreach towards chronic health issues including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses. Challenge administrators also welcome the inclusion of other disease groups that would benefit from medication adherence-related interventions.

The Challenge is sponsored by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation, and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

Through April 2, inter-professional teams—including student pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and others—will implement creative outreach approaches in their communities to raise awareness and improve understanding about medication adherence. At the end of the Challenge, teams submit entries for review by national partner organizations, and winners are recognized for their efforts to improve medication adherence.

Last year, Team Challenge student health professionals were met with unique circumstances, hurdles, and obstacles as they navigated the historic COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in school closures, event cancelations, and a host of other challenges. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, dedicated teams pivoted their campaigns and made an impact in other ways. Ultimately, however, more than 80 teams submitted applications; the competition saw engagement from nearly 2,900 future healthcare professionals and volunteers, who hosted more than 250 events in 14 states. Collectively, the teams directly counseled close to 12,000 patients and introduced Script Your Future messaging to more than 430,000 consumers, nationwide.

Since the Team Challenge began in 2011, more than 21,000 future healthcare professionals have directly counseled nearly 87,000 patients and nearly 26 million consumers.

Last year’s national award winner was University of the Sciences: Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Other schools winning category-specific honors included: Howard University College of Pharmacy; St. Louis College of Pharmacy; Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Pharmacy (LECOM); University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy; and Western University College of Pharmacy. Additional participating schools received finalist and runner-up status across a variety of award categories.

To learn about previous winners, visit Script Your Future’s online home.

For more information on the Challenge, visit the Challenge Community website.

Tweet along with us during the Challenge using #SYFchallenge, and follow the campaign @IWillTakeMyMeds.

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About National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

About Script Your Future

Script Your Future is a campaign of the National Consumers League (NCL), a private, non-profit membership organization founded in 1899. NCL’s mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information about the Script Your Future campaign, visit ScriptYourFuture.org. For more information on NCL, please visit nclnet.org.

Ensuring completion of series for the COVID-19 vaccine

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

After 10 dark months and over 350,000 lives lost, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against COVID-19. Developing a vaccine for COVID-19 in such a short timeframe was made possible by dedicated efforts on the part of scientists, public health experts, and private and public partnerships. It is truly a triumphant medical achievement.

Now health care providers face another summit to scale—ensuring compliance for the vaccine to encourage efficacy and herd immunity. The leading vaccines for COVID-19, Pfizer BioNTech, and Moderna, will require two doses to ensure efficacy. Evidence has shown that when a vaccine involves multiple doses, nearly 50 percent of patients fail to return for a second dose. Clearly, aside from the distribution and administration, ensuring completion of series for the vaccine will be a critical logistical challenge.

It is estimated that 75 to 85 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. That’s a lot of people. And if we account for the odds of those who will receive the vaccine and do not complete their series, we’ve got a long road ahead before the pandemic is behind us.

While both the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to be 95 percent effective, require two doses, and use similar mRNA vaccine technology, they differ in timelines. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine requires two doses that are spaced three weeks apart, and Moderna’s vaccine requires two doses that are spaced four weeks apart. Coordinating efforts to ensure that patients get the correct vaccine in a timely manner, will be a massive undertaking.

There are multiple barriers to address in order to enhance vaccine compliance to end the pandemic. The vaccine is expected to induce flu-like symptoms and may deter some patients from getting their second dose if they aren’t warned about what to expect. Common side effects of the vaccine include headache, fever, chills, soreness at the site of delivery, and fatigue, but patients will need transparency about all potential side effects.

All patients who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be given vaccine cards (see below). These cards will help track the type of vaccine administered, the dosage, date, and other information pertinent to providers and patients to ensure the completion of a series. Similar to contact tracing, massive follow up will be required via text messages, along with other interventions to remind patients of their upcoming second dose.

Source: CNN

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a statement on the importance of properly adhering to FDA-issued vaccine guidelines. The vaccines have been issued with specified dosages and are scheduled at timed intervals. Individuals are instructed against reducing the number of doses (only taking one shot), extending the length of time between their booster vaccines, or changing guidance that is not rooted in evidence-based science, as it will directly impact the efficacy of the vaccine. Until new data is released by scientists and manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine regarding changes in dosage or schedules, FDA encourages continued adherence to its current issued guidance.

Vaccine hesitancy will surely further complicate matters. A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that African Americans are increasingly skeptical of a COVID-19 vaccine. The findings allude to generational distrust of government and medical institutions by people of color, specifically, African Americans, where vaccine hesitancy has been influenced by lived experiences with discrimination and systemic racism. A successful vaccination plan will not only consider the herculean task of distribution and administration but should provide credible outreach within communities of color to foster confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine.

The National Consumers League continues to educate consumers on the importance of vaccine safety and compliance through our advocacy and engagement with the FDA. Our best line of defense against the pandemic is vaccine confidence and adherence. We encourage all who are able to get vaccinated for their own health and the health of their loved ones and community.

NCL testified before CDC committee on COVID-19 vaccine recommendations

For immediate release: December 22, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) testified before the Centers for Disease Control and Disease Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) this weekend on the equitable distribution of the Moderna vaccine and recommendations for consumer education on vaccine safety. In its testimony, NCL applauds the transparency and access afforded to the public throughout the COVID-19 vaccine approval process.

Equitable distribution:

NCL is encouraged that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the Moderna vaccine and that the U.S. government will lead distribution efforts. Due to its ease of transport and storage, the Moderna vaccine stands to readily ship to rural and hard to reach communities. NCL calls on federal health officials at the helm of distribution to facilitate access to the Moderna vaccine to medically underserved areas.

Safety and efficacy:

NCL expressed its trust in the FDA and CDC’s robust inter-agency collaboration to continue ongoing, post-market surveillance of adverse events among recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine and to inform consumers of any additional safety recommendations. NCL urged the CDC to educate consumers about potential reactions and side effects, as this transparency will further encourage the compliance necessary to achieve herd immunity. The vaccine is expected to induce flu-like symptoms after the initial dose and this may deter some patients from getting their second dose if they aren’t warned about what to anticipate.

Vaccine adherence:

NCL encouraged the CDC to conduct culturally competent and inclusive public messaging about vaccine safety to ensure that communities of color and persons with limited English proficiency are informed and feel empowered in their decisions to vaccinate. Adding to the complexity of administering the vaccine, public health officials will need to ensure the completion of two doses in a series. This stands to create additional challenges because evidence has shown that when a vaccine involves multiple doses, nearly 50 percent of patients fail to return for a second dose.

Equitable allocation:

NCL applauds ACIP’s recommendations to prioritize vaccinations for health care workers and long-term care facility residents in Phase 1a. Now that there are two approved vaccines, NCL calls on ACIP to prioritize recommendations to vaccinate the approximately 87 million non-healthcare essential workers unable to work from home—such as bus drivers and grocery workers—who are at higher risk of exposure. Racial and ethnic minorities make up more than 40 percent of the essential workforce and are the backbone of many essential industries. The pandemic has illustrated that low-income minority communities experience more severe COVID-related illness requiring hospitalization and are at higher risk for death.

Persons who recovered from COVID-19:

Lastly, over 18 million individuals in the U.S. have been infected with the coronavirus. It is expected that individuals who recover will acquire some natural immunity to COVID-19. Individuals who recover from the coronavirus want to know if they are protected from reinfection and for how long. We call on the CDC to expedite developing vaccine recommendations for persons who’ve recovered from COVID-19.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL statement on vaccine for COVID-19

For immediate release: November 12, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL) welcomes the very hopeful news that a coronavirus vaccine with a reported efficacy rate of 90 percent may be approved and rolled out in the next few months. NCL has historically advocated for vaccines because they have overwhelming effectiveness and safety profiles, preventing billions of often debilitating and deadly diseases across the globe—from small pox to measles to polio. The clinical evidence on the coronavirus vaccine—developed by Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE—though incomplete at the moment, is very promising.

“We applaud the unprecedented cooperation by public and private entities, along with concerted coordination among scientists, doctors, and researchers that has gone into developing a vaccine to combat this terrible pandemic, which has killed over 237,000 Americans, struck 10 million people, and only shows signs of worsening over the winter months,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “As this vaccine moves closer to being cleared for widespread use and the safety data verified, we are grateful to the companies and government officials who urgently prioritized the development of an effective and safe vaccine to combat the scourge of COVID-19. We are also encouraged that other companies are in the later stages of reviewing their own COVID-19 vaccines, which use different technologies to fight the virus but hopefully will be effective and safe as well.”

The FDA will be reviewing the safety data in the next few weeks on the Pfizer vaccine and will then determine to whom the first doses will be directed. Pfizer has said the vaccine could become available before the end of the year and that the company can produce 50 million doses globally—equivalent to reaching 25 million people because two doses are required for maximum protection from the virus. The most vulnerable populations are likely to receive the first batch of vaccines.

NCL cautioned consumers that during this period, people should maintain all the safety practices for preventing spread of the virus—wearing masks and practicing social distancing and keeping social gatherings to a minimum.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

CMS Proposed Rule Ignores Data & Bipartisan Support for the Value of Copay Assistance Programs

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras

Americans love getting a discount. As consumers, we like to shop to save without compromising the quality of the products we buy. But in healthcare, the stakes are higher at the checkout counter. Patients not only want a discount, they depend on it to afford necessary, sometimes lifesaving, medication to treat their health condition.

Despite what we know about the value and impact of copay assistance programs, a new policy from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) could put a barrier between these critical programs and the patients who need them most.

Manufacturer copay assistance programs include discounts, coupon cards, and vouchers which many of our friends, family members, and neighbors use to afford their prescriptions. Studies have shown that without these financial support systems, many patients couldn’t afford their medicines.

The CMS proposal, which has yet to be finalized, would require manufacturers to guarantee that this assistance goes directly to patients—and if manufacturers do not, they would be required to include the value of the copay assistance in Medicaid Best Price and Average Manufacturer Price (AMP) calculations. That would be fine but there’s a  problem.

CMS has a separate policy that was already finalized earlier this year: the Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP) Rule for 2021. In part, the NBPP allows health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to use policies that stop copay assistance from counting towards a patient’s out-of-pocket burden—sometimes called copay accumulator adjustment programs.

NCL criticized HHS for permitting health plans to use these so-called copay accumulator adjustment programs.

“Removing this cost-sharing assistance will force those patients to pay thousands of dollars more in unexpected costs at the pharmacy. These new costs could push some to forego those medications, leading to worsened health outcomes. This could compromise medication adherence and will lead to increased health care costs over time.” – NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg

Separate studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and IQVIA show that out-of-pocket costs can contribute substantially to reduced adherence or to patients not taking their medication altogether. This is counterproductive because if patients do not take their meds as directed, it means higher costs in other parts of the healthcare system stemming from increased hospitalizations, ER visits, and long-term health issues.

If the data doesn’t convince CMS, voters should. Weeks before the presidential election, we can clearly see widespread support for the value of copay assistance regardless of political affiliation. According to a new National Hemophilia Foundation national survey, more than 80 percent of registered voters believe the government should require copay assistance to be applied to patients’ out-of-pocket costs. Even lawmakers agree that CMS should stop this policy before it launches. A bipartisan group of 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to CMS urging the agency to not finalize the “contentious line extension section or the Medicaid best price change as currently defined in the notice of proposed rulemaking.”

Clearly, copay assistance is critical to Americans. We hope CMS reevaluates the potentially harmful consequences of this new rule on patients and pulls back this counterproductive proposal.

NCL testified before FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) testified before the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For over 120 years, NCL has advocated on behalf of consumers who depend on vaccines as lifesaving medical interventions. NCL extended its gratitude to the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee for all they do to protect public health and for the opportunity to speak before the Committee.

In its testimony, NCL highlighted the following priorities: the deployment of Emergency Use Authorizations; the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine; and the inclusion of diversity in clinical trials. These three concerns align directly with NCL’s efforts to enhance vaccine confidence and uptake, especially in the context of COVID-19.

Safety and Effectiveness:

NCL trusts that the FDA will release a vaccine only upon careful consideration of its safety and effectiveness. Post-market surveillance of the vaccine is imperative to determining the ongoing efficacy of the vaccine. Implementing the release of a vaccine on such a magnificent scale will involve precise coordination that traverses all levels of government and consumers will rely on public health agencies to communicate and respond to any potential adverse events regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Emergency Use Authorization (EUA):

There has never been a more critical time for consumers to have confidence in the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is entrusted with ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of the treatments needed to treat and prevent the spread of the virus.

Throughout the pandemic, consumers have received conflicting information from the Administration on various COVID-19 treatments. NCL is aware that developing a vaccine for COVID-19 is a time-sensitive priority, however, we are concerned that consumers may believe that the FDA is hastily approving investigational tests and drugs.

NCL appreciates that the FDA recognizes that EUA is not intended to replace randomized clinical trials and that clinical trials are critically important for the definitive demonstration of safety and efficacy of a treatment. Through our education and outreach of consumers, we support the FDA in its efforts to develop a safe, effective, and expedited pathway towards a COVID-19 vaccine.

Diversity in Clinical Trials:

Finally, to mitigate the disproportionate disease burden experienced by people of color during the pandemic, NCL requests that clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine are inclusive and consist of diverse subjects. People of color are significantly underrepresented in clinical trials and undertreated in medical settings. This phenomenon will prove to be a challenge when encouraging vaccine uptake. Ensuring adequate representation in clinical trials would foster vaccine confidence across all demographics.

In closing, to stem the tide of deaths from these vaccine-preventable diseases, NCL submits these comments for review by the Committee to ensure that consumers are afforded with safe and effective vaccines to combat the pandemic.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Compromised access to the USPS could result in worsened health outcomes

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, is today expressing concern about recent cuts to funding for the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the impact this has on consumers’ access to critical lifesaving medications.

The USPS has already suffered setbacks due to deteriorating financial conditions, and most recently the significant delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The vulnerable agency is now caught in the middle of political strife as the President ponders withholding funding for the USPS in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation, in order to impede mail-in voting. The USPS is an essential service, and consumers rely on these services daily to pay their rent, receive wages and Social Security checks, and most importantly, receive prescription medications via mail-order pharmacies.

These developments have grave ramifications for older Americans, and particularly veterans, of whom 80 percent receive their medications through mail-order pharmacies, 90 percent of which are delivered via the USPS. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proprietary mail-order pharmacy system, the Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP), consists of a group of seven automated hub pharmacies. The CMOP processes nearly 500,000 prescriptions daily, and ships packages to more than 330,000 veterans each working day.

The VA has stated that changes in the USPS have delayed medication deliveries by 25 percent in the last year, and has experienced an influx of mail-order prescriptions as entry to VA facilities have been limited to curb the spread of COVID-19. Veterans in rural or remote areas often rely exclusively on mail-order prescriptions, and as older Americans are cautioned to quarantine and social distance throughout the pandemic, ensuring timely access to medication is ever more imperative. The VA is currently rushing to mitigate potential delays by temporarily converting its deliveries from USPS to UPS 2nd Day Air or FedEx. Additionally, the VA will set up a specialized USPS code, to help prioritize veteran prescription deliveries.

The VA has advised patients to request refills for their medications at least 10 days before their treatment course ends, to ensure timely delivery of medications. Disruptions in medication deliveries caused by a lack of funding to the USPS could drastically impact overall health outcomes and medication adherence. As the country navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial that our most vulnerable have timely and adequate access to the medications they need to maintain their health and avert potential progression of disease.

The National Consumers League stands with the United States Postal Service workers, as they tirelessly work to provide essential services during these challenging times. We call on Congress to hold the Administration accountable to ensure that consumers maintain access to the essential USPS services on which they depend.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Understand the opioid epidemic and protect yourselves and loved ones

Knowing the rights, risks and responsibilities of prescription opioid use is an important first step to addressing the opioid epidemic. Whether you are taking medication to treat pain, or have friends or family members who have been prescribed opioids, knowing the facts can help prevent misuse before it occurs.

NCL recently partnered with the Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA) to create a new batch of resources to help educate consumers about prescription opioid safety. The new Consumer Toolkit includes educational materials to help reinforce the need for patients, caregivers, parents, and others to understand their rights, risks, and responsibilities associated with prescription opioid use.

Prescription opioids are medications prescribed by healthcare providers to treat moderate to severe pain for health conditions that cause ongoing discomfort as well as for pain following surgery or injury. Common prescription opioids include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

If you are not sure if your medicine is an opioid, check your prescription labels to look for generic names. The National Safety Council also provides a helpful chart of medicines that contain opioids. You should always ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you are not able to find the name or have questions.

Watch for risk factors associated with prescription opioids, including:

  • Mixing opioids with other medications, drugs, nutritional supplements or alcohol
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Taking a high daily dose of opioids
  • Certain conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, sleep apnea, or liver or lung disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Family history of substance abuse

Let your doctor know if you or your loved ones have any of these risk factors before filling any opioid prescription.

“Opioid misuse often starts in the home, so safe storage and disposal are key to prevention,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “Make sure that prescription opioids are stored securely and remember to properly dispose of all unused prescription opioids as soon as possible.”

AAOA offers a safe disposal locator for you to find a place to safety get rid of your unused medications. Find details on safe disposal options here.

The overlooked epidemic: COVID-19 and its relationship to opioids

By NCL Health Policy intern Talia Zitner

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only major public health crisis plaguing America. As the country struggles to contain COVID-19, the pandemic has seen a corollary rise in incidents of opioid usage and overdose. A major disruption in the way people suffering from opioid addiction receive treatment may ultimately prove critical to understanding how the opioid epidemic is directly affected by the coronavirus.

When lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, opioid treatment centers were not eligible to receive any of the $50 billion in funding that was allocated for Medicare providers. As a result, these essential centers—often under-supported and understaffed—saw their workforce getting ill or leaving to care for loved ones. Additionally, job loss and illness have left those already at risk of opioid addiction more vulnerable to relapse and death.

A key problem is the patient’s ability to get a prescription for addiction-managing drugs. Many centers rightly offer only one pill a day to their patients, but as the pandemic has forced the need for physical distancing and lack of physical contact, it has become increasingly difficult for people to get their medication. Long lines and hours-long wait times dissuade patients from getting their daily dosage. Few patients qualify for more than one dose per day, and few doctors are authorized to prescribe larger amounts of opioid managing medication.

Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed the opioid epidemic that continues to haunt millions of Americans. During this difficult time, the government should focus on the risk of opioid abuse and overdose and put more money into treatment programs and centers. Without support, more people will succumb to opioid addiction, lack of access to treatment, and death, further burdening the health care system.

Talia is a Washington, DC native and a rising sophomore at Wesleyan University, where she is studying English. Beyond health policy, Talia’s interests are in journalism, law, and social justice.