Responses to the Opioid Epidemic

"Opioid Epidemic"

Responses to the Opioid Epidemic

There are four times more opioid induced deaths now than 17 years ago. Taking just an example, in 2014 more than 28,000 people died from overdoses and prescription drugs.

Public awareness rose after Prince’s death, and police started to investigate the role prescription narcotics had in the sad event.

As a consequence, the House of Representatives will vote a new package of bills while the Senate passed a bill of its own last month. These new regulations request more education for medical workers and more accessible addiction treatments.

Newspapers published investigations on pharmaceutical companies and front page editorials on the dangers of opioids. Medical apps have introduced warning signs on the pages dedicated to narcotic drugs.

The first tentative in fighting this significant threat was the release of a guideline on opioid prescribing for pain. New warning labels were imposed for commonly prescribed opioid drugs.

Another strong reaction came from nonprofit groups and doctors that requested health centers to remove questions regarding pain from patient satisfaction surveys. The latter initiative was dismissed by The Joint Commission.

The president of the American Medical Association encouraged doctors to verify each patient in order to avoid multiple prescriptions from different medical specialists. Another recommendation was to prescribe naloxone together with opioids to patients that risk overdose.

“We must accept and embrace our professional responsibility to treat our patients’ pain without worsening the current crisis. These are actions we must take as physicians individually and collectively to do our part to end this epidemic,” said Dr. Steven J. Stack, AMA president.

One of the issues with opioids prescribed as a treatment for pain is that the pain level is not something objective, and it cannot be measured. Thus, the general rule seems to be to avoid an opioid treatment for patients that do not suffer from cancer pains.

The National Institute of Health reported the most significant drop in opioids prescriptions from the last four years. But this change came along with a rise in requests for alternative medications.

As a result, fatal overdoses caused by painkillers increased in number. Another concern is that patients that in the meantime became opioid addicts started to be interested in more dangerous drugs with a stronger effect, which are less difficult to be obtained, such as heroin.

It is not yet known if these measures taken so far will have any effect, but it is now clear that state officials must present stronger long-term solutions in order to control the opioid death toll.

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