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Opioid policy

Recommendation 6a: Public policymakers should implement pro-innovation policies that correct for failures in patent law and market incentives.

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     The USA’s innovation climate is set up to reward goods that can be patented (e.g., pharmaceuticals) and incentivizes companies to create and then increase demand for habit-forming patented products. Patent law can also create barriers to access for some OUD treatments, for example by keeping the price of a medication high due to lack of competition. But other innovation policies can be used to reduce harms of medication exclusivity. Policymakers should consider eliminating patent-related access barriers by purchasing products from patent owners and distributing them at low cost to patients or by purchasing patent rights and allowing generic production. For example, if the U.S. government bought out Evzio’s patents on the naloxone auto-injector, it could be made publicly available at cost.   

     Public policy should also encourage innovation in pursuits unlikely to lead to significant market rewards. Non-pharmacological treatments – whether for addiction or pain – do not fit into the usual system of patents or promised profits. Similarly, most public health interventions cannot be patented. Greater government funding through grants and prizes could help drive innovation in areas where patents are not suitable incentives. Public funding could also be more focused on projects that are unlikely to attract private sector investment. For example, government grants could have a section for applications to explain why the project would not otherwise be funded.

     Pro-innovation policies work in concert with the health care provision, training, and financing policies that the Commission recommended in Domain 3. As the number of individuals with insurance who seek care for opioid-related conditions increases, the reimbursement for those services and the number of professionals providing them increase as well. This creates demand-side pressure for innovation, thereby making it more likely that supply-side efforts will meet with success.