The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is pleased to welcome U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel L. Levine as a co-chair of the Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic, alongside Victor Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine, Jonathan Perlin, President of Clinical Services and Chief Medical Officer at HCA Healthcare, and Ruth Katz, Vice President and Executive Director of Health, Medicine and Society Program at Aspen Institute.

“The opioid epidemic became an even more urgent public health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to reverse the deadly trends of our nation’s overdose crisis couldn’t be more pressing,” Dr. Levine says. “I’m pleased to join the NAM Action Collaborative and support a unified approach to ensure the best outcomes for individuals with addiction. We are all in this effort to overcome the opioid crisis together.”

Even before the pandemic took hold, the U.S. had seen an upward trend in drug-related deaths. According to new preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control, 2020 marks the highest annual increase in overdose deaths in 50 years, showing a nearly 30% increase since 2019. Opioids are the leading cause of fatal overdoses, accounting for almost three-quarters of all drug-related deaths in 2019.

Dr. Levine brings an established record of taking action to combat the opioid crisis, which was a major priority for her during her tenures as both Physician General and Secretary of Health of Pennsylvania. Her commitment to combatting opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania led her to issue a 2015 standing order that improved public access to Naloxone, a drug that can immediately reverse an opioid overdose. In addition to Dr. Levine’s work developing life-saving, innovative policy solutions to support those with opioid use disorder, her research and scholarship continue to contribute to improved public health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility and patchwork nature of the health system by which we care for those with addiction,” said NAM President Victor J. Dzau, chair of the Action Collaborative. “We continue to believe that public-private partnerships and multi-sectoral collaboration are the best and most promising way to move toward an ecosystem of care that supports addiction prevention and delivers high-quality, evidence-based, and person-centered care. I am pleased to welcome Dr. Levine to our work and look forward to working with her throughout the Action Collaborative.”

In order to improve outcomes for individuals and communities affected by the opioid crisis, the Action Collaborative focuses on four core priority areas: health professional education and training; pain management guidelines and evidence standards; prevention, treatment, and recovery services; and research, data, and metrics needs. These areas are designed to advance the goals of the Action Collaborative, which are to:

  1. Identify and raise the visibility of complex challenges, outstanding research gaps, and needs of the opioid crisis that require a collective, multi-sectoral response;
  2. Elevate and accelerate evidence-based, multi-sectoral, and interprofessional solutions to improve outcomes for those affected by the opioid crisis; and
  3. Catalyze action on shared priorities and solutions to help overcome the crisis and improve outcomes for all.

The NAM established the Collaborative in 2018, as a public-private partnership to promote coordination and collective action across different sectors of the health system and beyond in addressing the opioid crisis. Since the Action Collaborative’s inception, more than 60 organizations have joined to support the Collaborative’s mission to develop and disseminate multi-sector solutions. Over the last three years, the Action Collaborative has held several public convenings and webinars and has published numerous expert commentaries and discussion papers outlining actionable strategies to combat the opioid crisis. As a result of the Action Collaborative’s impact, and the continued need for national attention and coordination especially in lieu of the trends experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Collaborative has been extended through the end of 2022.

Visit the Action Collaborative’s website to learn more about the Action Collaborative, including its leadership, membership, activities, and sponsors, as well as to register for updates.

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