The American Medical Association recently released a report that found barriers to care have worsened the nation’s drug overdose epidemic, urging industry stakeholders to take action in response.

The study found that while opioid prescribing is declining, overdoses and deaths related to illicit manufacturing of fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine have continued to rise.

Overdose deaths in the U.S. have risen more than 17% since 2020, the report found, with deaths topping 107,000 in 2021. Provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May found that overdose deaths have risen by 50% in the past two years. 

The upshot of the report is that while physicians have played a critical role in curbing opioid prescriptions, more needs to be done to reverse the course of the ongoing epidemic. This includes removing barriers to evidence-based care like prior authorizations among other specific policy actions.

“The AMA finds the increasing toll of drug-related overdose and death unacceptable, and the new mortality figures for youth and Black and Brown Americans is opening a new, frightening chapter of the epidemic,” Bobby Mukkamala, MD, Chair of the AMA Substance Use and Pain Care Task Force, said in the report. 

Other steps outlined in the report include calling on medical and healthcare professional licensing boards to review and rescind “arbitrary restrictions on opioid therapy” for patients with pain. 

The AMA also urged states to require payers to make nonopioid pain care alternatives more available and affordable, along with removing punitive measures for pregnant people and patients with a substance-use disorder.

The opioid crisis has plagued the nation for years, prompting calls for collective action from healthcare organizations, patients, advertising groups and the federal government alike. 

In March, two dozen victims of the opioid epidemic aired their grievances to the Sackler family in court regarding Purdue Pharma’s role in fueling the crisis with their physician-prescribed OxyContin. The family agreed to a multibillion settlement in U.S. bankruptcy proceedings.

The Ad Council launched two public health-focused campaigns in May and June targeting the national overdose crisis and youth fentanyl awareness

Another key recommendation from the AMA urged public health officials to conduct pilot projects supporting overdose-protection and harm-reduction centers. Over the summer, the Biden administration released its 2022 drug control strategy, which incorporated some aspects of the harm-reduction approach.