Addiction to opioids is emerging as a global menace. According to records, around 36 million people worldwide abuse opioids in the form of prescription drugs. The consequences have been devastating. For instance, the number of unintentional deaths as a result of prescribed pain killers has soared in the United States. In fact, the number has gone up by more than four times and every 19 minutes, a person dies of an opioid overdose in the U.S. The legendary singer, Prince’s death can also be attributed to a prescription painkiller, fentanyl.
There could be several factors behind this increase in prescribed drug abuse, including an increase in the number of dispensed prescriptions and greater social acceptability of using medication for various purposes. The marketing tactics of pharmaceutical companies are also a contributing factor to this Opioid epidemic. If records are anything to go by, the rate of opiate prescriptions has shot up more than 300% in the last two decades. In the video below, AMA President, Steven J. Stack, provides 4 easy tips for physicians to tackle Opioid epidemic:
Tip 1: Consider non-opioid therapy. This is probably the first and most important tip in turning the tide on opioid epidemic.
Tip 2: If there is a need to prescribe opioids, use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible duration.
Tip 3: Register for and leverage your state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) if the patients need to be treated for pain.
Tip 4: Prescribe naloxone to patients, when it is possible. Naloxone is a drug overdose reversal program and it has saved more than 20,000 lives in the country. The AMA task force also offers concrete recommendations about when you should prescribe naloxone to patients.
A doctor may need to improve education and training on safe prescribing. Before prescribing a non-pharmacologic alternative, you need to ask yourself, two questions: When did I last look at the research on an opioid alternative? When did I attend an educational program that would help me prescribe better?
The AMA has more than 100 resources that can act as a one-stop shop for up-to-date education. Many of us also need training on how to recognize people with substance use disorder, and need to speak up against the stigma of opioid abuse. Patients who are in pain need compassion; they do not need judgment.
Admittedly, treating pain is difficult and most physicians are prompted to prescribe opioids. But, our commitment to patient’s health requires us to say no, and recommend an alternate source of treatment. It can be difficult but sometimes you may have no other option. What do you think?