Friday, August 26, 2016

Message from the HHS OMH Director: The Surgeon General is calling on us to lead on prescription opioid crisis

Office of Minority Health
Every day, more than 75 people in our country die from a prescription drug or heroin overdose. In 2013, nearly 249 million prescriptions were written for opioids—enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of pills. A significant factor in the opioid epidemic is legally written prescriptions from doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
As a physician myself, I understand the important role that we—the doctors, nurse practitioners, dentists and physician assistants of America—can play in the effort to turn the tide on this epidemic. To help address the prescription opioid crisis, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is taking historic action by sending a personal letter to more than 2.3 million health care practitioners and public health leaders. I want to make sure you see his letter, a copy of which I have included below. Please take a moment to read it and then visit to join with clinicians from across the country in a simple but powerful movement to end this epidemic. provides clinicians with practical tools, information, and in-the-trenches stories from colleagues offering their insights into the epidemic. This new resource becomes another crucial tool in our work to reduce the behavioral health disparities that minorities experience, including lack of access to services and treatment. Some of these barriers to care include systemic issues of bias in the health care delivery system; discrimination; lack of insurance; and cultural, language, and communication barriers between patients and providers.

For the communities we serve at the HHS Office of Minority Health, we are for example concerned by the prescription opioid overdose deaths among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations–death rates that surpass those of non-Hispanic whites according to data from the CDC. And while AI/AN populations have the highest prescription opioid deaths rates of all Americans, the devastation of this epidemic is felt across all populations, including all racial and ethnic minority populations. Now is the time to shine a light on the hidden realities of mental and substance use disorders in communities of color—conditions that are often intensified by trauma. And, lack of health coverage and the ability to afford care are often reported as barriers to seeking treatment, further compounding the disparities generated by adverse social and economic conditions.

The HHS Office of Minority Health, along with Dr. Murthy, encourages you to spread the news about this new effort to combat the prescription opioid crisis to your networks and communities. We hope you will join the movement and be a part of the solution. Together we can turn the tide.


J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, Director, Office of Minority Health

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