Opioids + Prescription Drugs

Click here to learn more about actions taken by BCHC members

Click here to learn more about actions taken by BCHC members

Over the past decade, opioid addiction and overdose has become a major public health issue, both in the form of prescription painkillers and heroin. Deaths by opioid overdose—prescription painkillers and heroin—now outnumber fatal car accidents. In 2014, the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy has called the scale and scope of abuse an epidemic that has had a “devastating impact on public health and safety” in the United States. That characterization has been echoed on state and local levels, including by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who declared the rise in opioid use and addiction a “public health emergency,” and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who described it as a “public health crisis.” 

Public health officials in the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) have seen this epidemic firsthand in their emergency rooms, in their addiction treatment centers, and on their streets. Today, opioid addiction runs rampant across class and racial divisions. Previous generations of opioid abusers were largely addicted to heroin, and were overwhelmingly young, black men in poor urban areas. Today’s opioid users are older, more suburban, more affluent, and more likely to have become addicted to a prescription painkiller. 

There are many possible solutions that can be taken to combat and prevent this problem. On the federal level, laws can be created and implemented to prevent drug abuse, provide access to treatment, and create educational programs for patients, health care providers and pharmacists. The most recent update to the ONDCP’s National Drug Control Strategy focuses on safe prescribing practices, which is an important component among a wide range of actions being taken by the federal government and agencies.


The Big Cities Health Coalition is advocating for three specific federal actions:

  1. The passage of a federal Good Samaritan Law
  2. Increased accessibility to Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose
  3. The creation of a federal interagency task force to address insurance barriers to addiction treatment


BCHC wrote to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, in support the agency's new Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. Read the letter here.


On March 7, 2016, the Coalition sent a letter to U.S. Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, requesting their support for the passage of S.524, the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). Members also requested that legislators go a step further by also supporting "The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act,” (S.1455).

BCHC Member Testifies before U.S. Senate Hearing on Opioid Abuse in America

BCHC member and Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, testified before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at a hearing entitled, "Opioid Abuse in America: Facing the Epidemic and Examining Solutions," on December 8th 2015. Find a special report on opioid abuse in Baltimore and Dr. Wen's full remarks at the links below.

Click here.

CAPITOL HILL BRIEFING: “The Opioid Epidemic: Reporting From the Front Lines of America’s Big Cities” 

The BCHC hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill, "The Opioid Epidemic: Reporting from the Front Lines of America's Big Cities" on September 16, 2014.  BCHC members Dr. Barbara Ferrer of Boston, Dr. Bechara Choucair of Chicago, and Dr. Mary Travis Bassett spoke on opioid abuse and advocate for urgent federal action. 

For more information, read the full press release