The Synthetic Opioid Danger Awareness Act (HR 5633) would amend the Public Health Service Act to direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to carry out a public education campaign on the dangers of synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids are a class of drugs that includes fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid responsible for up to half of all deaths in the recent opioid crisis. The majority of fentanyl fatalities occur when individuals inadvertently consume fentanyl mixed with a different substance, as drugs like heroin and cocaine have become increasingly contaminated with fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin, leading to overdoses at much lower doses.
The campaign would include information on the following three topics:
- The potency and dangers of synthetic opioids like fentanyl;
- Opioid use and pain management; and
- Treatments for opioid abuse offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CDC.
The campaign could operate through a number of avenues, such as television, radio, internet, commercial marketing, and public communications. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be tasked with continuously evaluating the impact of this public awareness program, submitting a report to Congress every two years. Furthermore, under this Bill, HHS would disseminate information about synthetic opioids to federal healthcare programs and hospitals (e.g., Medicare and Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] hospitals). A training guide would also be made available online to train first responders and other healthcare professionals who may be at risk of exposure to synthetic opioids.
The rates of opioid abuse and number of deaths from opioid use disorders have improved in response to federal and state measures to decrease opioid addiction and overdoses. HHS is undertaking a variety of measures to address fentanyl use and overdose, including reforming opioid prescription practices, expanding access to naloxone (a drug used to reverse an overdose), and improving treatment options for opioid addiction. Although there are few reliable studies on the efficacy of public-focused education campaigns with regard to opioid abuse, studies have shown that patients often lack information about opioids, indicating that a patient-focused education program may be effective. Both the VA and the Department of Defense officially recommend patient education programs for patients and their families to reduce the risk of addiction and overdose.