According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving opioids in 2014—a four-fold increase since 2009. The agency has declared prescription abuse an “epidemic.”
The toll of prescription drug abuse is felt by many. It is felt by the family members, friends, police officers and paramedics that are faced with preventing overdoses and assisting potential overdose victims. It is felt by emergency room staff, doctors and pharmacists across the country who are on the frontlines as they seek to identify and prevent “doctor” shopping and try to find treatment options for patients in need. And it is felt by families, friends and communities that are dealing with a seemingly endless cycle of expensive, exhausting and heartbreaking challenges that go hand-in-hand with drug abuse.
At the same time, pain is cited as the most common reason Americans seek out care. According to the National Institutes of Health, pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Studies have shown that 90 percent of patients with advanced cancer experience pain and pain occurs in 30 percent of all cancer patients, regardless of the stage of their disease.
What this shows is that this is a not a simple problem. We all have a role to play. Now more than ever, we need to work together to ensure appropriate treatment of pain while also addressing this critical public health challenge.
Part of this means pushing for the enactment of aggressive policies that will meaningfully address the problem. We and our members stand with patients, providers, law enforcement, policymakers and others in calling for and supporting national policies and action to address opioid abuse, including, but not limited to the following:
- Expanding access to overdose reversal agents and medication assisted treatments for addiction, including expanding the scope of first responders who have training in the use of and access to opioid reversal agents and exploring how we can encourage people to assist those in peril of overdose (for example, good Samaritans).
- Increasing education and awareness about appropriate use of medicines, not sharing medicines, securely storing medicines and safely disposing of any unused medicines; the signs and dangers of prescription drug abuse and addiction and what loved ones, communities, providers and others can do to help; and steps to help prevent an overdose and assist those in need of medical assistance.
- Strengthening prescriber education and training, including continuing medical education on pain management, appropriate prescribing of opioids and non-opioid alternatives, as well as mandated training and use of prescription drug monitoring programs to identify potential fraud and abuse.
- Developing evidence based clinical guidelines to inform appropriate treatment regimens for acute and chronic pain that address when and under what circumstances an opioid medication is appropriate, the dosage and duration of treatment.
- Expanding treatment capacity and treatment options, including enhancing coverage and access to the wide range of treatment and recovery services required to address addiction.
- Accelerating development of new abuse deterrent formulations of opioid medications and non-opioid pain medications, as well as medications to treat addiction and prevent drug overdose and death, and given their public health benefits, assessing the adequacy of coverage and access to these important medicines.
Given the impact of opioid abuse and prescription drug abuse more broadly, comprehensive policy frameworks and the engagement of all of us is needed to successfully combat this critical public health issue.
The truth is, we can and must do more. We all must do our part to end this crisis.
Anne McDonald Pritchett, PhD Senior Vice President, Policy & Research.