Public Health Leaders Push Reforms for Prescription Opioid Epidemic
Just recently, a group of experts issued recommendations aimed at combating the prescription opioid epidemic, a crisis that kills an average of 44 people a day in the U.S. The study was led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The report calls for changes in areas such as:
- The way medical students and physicians are trained
- How prescriptions are dispensed and monitored
- The way first responders are equipped to treat overdose
- How those with addiction are identified and treated
The report emerged from discussions that began last year at a town hall co-hosted by the Bloomberg School and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation. The group of professionals also included patient representative and insurer and drug manufactures.
The time is now to come up with solutions on how to handle the opioid epidemic. More than 16,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses related to opioid pain relievers in 2013. That’s four times the number who died in 1999.
In addition, prescription opioid sales have increased by 200 percent since 1999. The CDC estimated that in 2013, two million Americans were dependent on opioid medication. That number continues to climb significantly each year.
Although opioids can provide important pain relief for patients with acute or post-surgical pain, their addictive potential is very high. Up until the late 1990s, prescription opioids were only available to cancer patients. As pain management became a greater priority in our healthcare system, opioids were more commonly prescribed. Unfortunately, their addictive potential was severely underestimated.
According to the CDC, in 2012, health care providers wrote 250 million prescriptions for opioid pain relievers, enough to supply every adult in the US a four-week, round-the-clock supply. Another problem is that often these prescription pills are over-prescribed meaning too many pills are left unused. This leads into issues as either the patient or someone in their home like their children acquire access to the drug.
The report was titled “The Prescription Opioid Epidemic: An Evidence-Based Approach,” and breaks down the recommendation for the opioid crisis into seven categories:
- Prescribing Guidelines
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs)
- Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and Pharmacies
- Engineering Strategies (i.e., packaging)
- Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution Programs
- Addiction Treatment
- Community-Based Prevention Strategies
Essentially the report calls for stricter oversight of clinical prescription and more comprehensive training for medical students who in the past received very little instruction on the subject of addictions and overdose.
Some of the recommendations specifically called for a providing funding for treatment programs in communities with high rates of addiction in addition to educating prescribers and pharmacists on ways to prevent addiction. Another recommendation was to develop more secure and tamper-resistant packaging through design contests and implement “take back” programs that allows patients to return unused medication to pharmacies to prevent leftovers from being taken by potential abusers.
All the recommendations are definitely a step in the right direction to do something about the horrific opioid epidemic that is taking away lives every day. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.