Media outlets cover a worsening of the opioid epidemic, with AP noting the situation is now “even deadlier.” Fentanyl contamination of illicit drugs is blamed. Separately, The Street and Stat cover news from Vertex Pharmaceuticals on the progress of a new non-opioid pain drug.

AP: States Look For Solutions As US Fentanyl Deaths Keep Rising

As the addiction and overdose crisis that has gripped the US for two decades turns even deadlier, state governments are scrambling for ways to stem the destruction wrought by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. In statehouses across the country, lawmakers have been considering and adopting laws on two fronts: reducing the risk to users and increasing the penalties for dealing fentanyl or mixing it with other drugs. Meanwhile, Republican state attorneys general are calling for more federal action, while some GOP governors are deploying National Guard units with a mission that includes stopping the flow of fentanyl from Mexico. (Mulvihill, 4/3)

Science Alert: US Has A Catastrophic Rise In Fentanyl-Contaminated Drugs, Researchers Find

The proportion of illicit pills laced with a dangerous opioid has continued to rise throughout the coronavirus pandemic, doubling between January 2018 and December 2021, according to a recently published study funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. Using data on drug seizures collected by agencies across a nation-wide program, a team of researchers led by New York University epidemiologist Joseph J. Palamar evaluated the state of the opioid black market in the past three years. (McRae, 4/1)

The Guardian: How Fentanyl Flooded The US And Sent Opioid Deaths Soaring

During the coronavirus pandemic, drug overdose rates in America surged. In 2020, overdoses were up by 31% in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The death rate increased most dramatically among Black and Indigenous Americans – rising by 49% and 43% respectively in just one year. Experts say a large portion of this increase can be explained by the growing prevalence of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid. The reporter Erin McCormick has been investigating how the drug became so widespread in the US, and how its rise is rewriting the narrative of America’s opioid crisis. (Safi, McCormick and Mendoza, 4/3)

In other news about the opioid crisis –

The Street: Vertex Has A Pain Pill That May Replace Opioids

Biotech Vertex Pharmaceuticals VRTX is getting closer on an approval for its pain pill that could serve as a replacement for opioids since trials showed greater improvements in pain relief. The company said on March 31 that it received positive results from two Phase 2 proof-of-concept studies that investigated treating patients with acute pain following abdominoplasty surgery or bunionectomy surgery with their drug known as VX-548. (Chang, 4/1)

Stat: Vertex Non-Opioid Painkiller Meets Goals In Mid-Stage Studies

A novel pain drug from Vertex Pharmaceuticals met its goals in two mid-stage trials, the company said Thursday, paving the way for pivotal trials that could lead to approval. The highest dose of the drug, a pill called VX-548, beat placebo at reducing patients’ pain within 48 hours of surgery, Vertex said. The company tested its medicine in two studies, enrolling about 550 patients who had just undergone either abdominoplasty or bunionectomy, giving them either placebo, the opioid treatment hydrocodone, or one of three dosage strengths of VX-548. Vertex now plans to advance VX-548 into pivotal studies in the second half of this year, pending permission from the Food and Drug Administration. (Garde, 3/31)

AP: West Virginia Lawsuit Against Opioid Makers Set To Start

Opening statements are set in a lawsuit in West Virginia accusing several drugmakers of misrepresenting the risks and benefits of opioids. The bench trial starts Monday in Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan and their family of companies. (4/4)

C-HIT.ORG: Churches And Health Care Align To Offer Trusted Space For Addiction Treatment

In the basement of Madry Temple Church in New London, Margaret Lancaster, a health program coordinator at Ledge Light Health District, shows the pastor how to administer Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal treatment. In New Haven, at the Dixwell Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jerry Streets and local clinical staff are offering substance use disorder treatment. These alliances of frontline health care workers with trusted community leaders are addressing the alarming rise of substance use disorders by leveraging the cultural power of churches to reach people in need of help. (Jones, 4/3)

In related developments from around the world –

The Hill: Taliban Announces Official Ban On Poppy Cultivation

The Taliban on Sunday announced a ban on cultivating poppy flowers, which are used to make heroin, in a move seen as courting global approval while also putting farmers’ livelihoods at risk. The order also forbids the production, use and transit of other narcotics. (Beals, 4/3)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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