Health Care

Former US Health Secretaries Call for Big Ideas in Opioid Addiction

April 10, 2017  • Kathleen Sebelius & Tommy Thompson

Former governors and US Secretaries of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Tommy Thompson are co-chairs of the Aspen Health Strategy Group (AHSG). A major initiative of the Health, Medicine and Society Program of the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Health Strategy Group comprises 23 senior leaders across influential sectors such as health, business, media, and technology. They are tasked with providing recommendations on important and complex health issues to promote improvements in policy and practice.

Each year the AHSG tackles one issue for a year long, in-depth study. This year’s topic is addressing opioid addiction.

Do you have a big idea to tackle this issue? Submit it to us online by filling out a short form.

The politics of healthcare has become extraordinarily polarized.

Addiction to opioids is now a national crisis. Since 1999, deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled. More people died of a drug overdose in 2014 than any year on record—and six out of ten of those deaths involved an opioid. That same year 240 million prescriptions were written for opioids. Opioid addiction costs our health system billions each year. Communities all across the nation are struggling with addiction—many of us know someone whose life has been touched by addiction. While insurance coverage of addiction treatment has increased in recent years, care is still often fragmented, expensive and hard to access.

What policies will keep more people from becoming addicted to opioids? How can our health care system best treat and address those who are addicted? How can we increase access to treatment, particularly in rural areas that are hard hit by this crisis? How can we prevent deaths from overdose? What can communities do to support those suffering from addiction? These are all questions the Aspen Health Strategy Group plans to explore.

America needs new ideas to address our most complex and controversial health challenges. In 2016, we spent $3.4 trillion, or 18.1 percent of our GDP, on healthcare even as our people suffered unnecessarily from illness, health disparities, and unaffordable costs.

More people died of a drug overdose in 2014 than any year on record.

As the healthcare system goes through unprecedented transformation and biomedical innovation accelerates, the politics of healthcare has become extraordinarily polarized. This is why the Aspen Health Strategy Group is seeking to promote innovations in healthcare that break through existing political and institutional barriers. In our first year we addressed another tough and complex issue, care at the end of life, and you can read our report here.

In the tradition of the thought-provoking conversations and ideas about how to solve critical societal issues – the hallmark of the Aspen Institute – we are looking for big ideas that will transform the way we are addressing the opioid crisis in our country. They should be “big” – as in meaningful and bold – and “ideas” as in reflecting thought and not just an exhortation that someone do something they should be doing already.

We know that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, so we are opening up our solicitation for big ideas to everyone. If you have an idea for addressing opioid addiction we hope you will share it with us. The AHSG staff and members will select up to five that will be presented during the AHSG meeting in June and be included in a paper that will be prepared later in the year. This isn’t a competition—there is no prize—but your big idea just might become the starting point for much-needed change in healthcare.

For complete information about our guidelines, and to submit your big idea, go here.

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