AHSG’s Report on the Opioid Crisis

The purpose for the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Health Strategy Group (AHSG) is to provide leadership on important and complex health issues. Financial support is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and the Laurie Ml. Tisch Illumination Fund. 

AHSG Co-Chaired by former Secretaries of Health and Human Services (HHS) www.hhs.gov and former governors, Kathleen Sebelius and Tommy G. Thompson, on January 11, 2018, released their in-depth study “Confronting Our Nation’s Opioid Crisis”.

According to statements from the Co-Chairs, an estimated two million Americans are abusing prescription pain relievers and additional 591,000 are addicted to heroin with the opioid crisis showing no signs of abating on its own.

Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, of The Aspen Institute, reports that the Institute follows the tradition of taking a nonpartisan evidence-based approach to effectively address society’s most vexing challenges and is following up by identifying opportunities that will have an impact on our society.

Each year, AHSG chooses a single health policy and practice issue for comprehensive in-depth study. This year’s topic addresses the U.S opioid epidemic which a national crisis with staggering consequences for the healthcare system and for all others with opioid use disorders.

To develop this report on the opioid crisis, the AHSG group connected with 24 senior leaders across sectors such as health, business, media, and technology and is considered a major initiative within Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society Program.

Last June 2017, AHSG met for three days and conducted dialogue related to all the information available on this complicated and critical issue. The final papers in this second annual AHSG report address financing, care delivery, the legal system’s involvement, plus the final study includes five Big Ideas on how to address the opioid epidemic.

The five Big Ideas as stated in the report are to stop overprescribing, treat opioid addiction as a public health crisis, stop the deaths most of which are accidental, guarantee access to proper treatment, and invest in data and knowledge.

One of the major ideas in the report indicates that a robust research and data analytics agenda is needed to manage appropriate opioid use, improve pain management, and reduce inappropriate prescribing and diversion of legal opioids.

Several ideas on how time and money should be invested in data and knowledge are included such as:

  • Invest in data to enable data to be linked across states’ prescription drug monitoring programs to avoid inappropriate prescribing due to shopping across state lines
  • Harness the separate data silos that exist across insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, and employers to better understand patterns of prescribing and use
  • Redesign current prohibitions against sharing data between the medical care and mental healthcare systems that impede identification and treatment of people with opioid use disorder while retaining patient control over the information they choose to share
  • Continue to develop quality standards for opioid use disorder treatment as a means for holding treatment programs accountable and encourage resources to flow to high quality programs
  • Continue to build the evidence of the costs and benefits of opioid use
  • Continue to build the evidence regarding medication-assisted treatment to identify the most effective medications and the most effective types of therapy for different people with opioid use disorder
  • Study methods for treating pain, both acute and chronic, so prescribers and patients can select options other than opioids  


Go to https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/confronting-our-nations-opioid-crisis for the report with the foreword by Kathleen Sebelius and Tommy G. Thompson and edited by Alan R. Weil and Rachel Dolan.

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