Labor Day signals the end of summer. Thoughts turn to going back to school, and keeping ourselves and our family members safe and healthy. One threat to this harmony is the very serious issue of opioid use. AMCP Nexus is just around the corner, where opioid use will be a major topic. Whether you’re a pharmaceutical company or a health outcomes research company like HealthCore, it will be important to know a few basic things before the conversation starts. This blog is intended to set the stage for a much deeper dive into this topic. The next blog will cover it in greater detail.
What are opioids?
Opioids are defined by the FDA as “powerful pain-reducing medications that include prescription oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, among others, and have both benefits as well as potentially serious risks.” When used properly, they can be effective at managing pain. When used improperly, they can lead to addiction, overdose, and even death.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.
How can we combat the opioid epidemic?
Government and other health organizations have taken steps to educate both the public and healthcare providers about this issue. As early as 2012, the FDA ordered a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for extended release and long-acting opioids as part of a multi-agency Federal effort to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and misuse. In March of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain in an effort to improve communication between providers and patients about the risks and benefits of this therapy.
In further support of these efforts to curb the epidemic, providers on the front lines in real world care settings may serve as some of the greatest advocates of awareness and prevention. U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is sending an urgent letter to all physicians in America cautioning them of the dangers of opioids. Included in his mailing card are tips for prescribing them. This is the first time that America’s top doctor has reached out to all physicians, according to a Huffington Post article.
As these various efforts play out, it will be important to monitor the degree to which they succeed in the real world. Even more, when we do nail down successful action plans, it will require the buy in and collective effort of all stakeholders involved.