Is opioid addiction ending? Not yet, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). However, there is good news to share; one promising trend is that the volume of opioid prescriptions is decreasing, as clinicians are educated about the dangers of opioid medications for pain relief.
This article explores the strategies being used by clinicians nationally to curb the current opioid epidemic, as reported in the AMA Opioid Task Force Progress Report. Are Washington State clinicians using these same strategies? Are these strategies working in the state?
Fighting Opioid Addiction – Benchmarking Our Progress
The frontlines of the opioid crisis have always included the prescribing doctor or nurse practitioner. According to WebMD, in 2015, two million Americans, ages 12 and up, were addicted to opioids. In 2016 alone, pharmacies filled more than 214 million opioid prescriptions, more than any other country in the world. The same article pointed out these unbelievable statistics:
In one year, almost 117,000 people in our country died from overuse of these drugs. That is more than the wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and Vietnam combined.
One in every four people that are prescribed opioids will struggle later with addiction. That is why many of the new state and federal regulations have begun limiting their prescribing ability in an effort to combat opioid addiction.
The reason this is necessary, of course, is that there are now 115 deaths every day in this country stemming from the overuse and misuse of opioid medications. Conversely, WebMD suggests that 100 million Americans live with long-term chronic pain. Doctors and mid-level clinicians with prescribing rights sometimes feel caught in the middle between legislators attempting to stop a public health crisis and patients who are struggling with terrible, chronic pain. In truth, many of these clinicians originally began prescribing opioids when the manufacturers used less-than-truthful marketing citing pain relief without addiction. By May 2018, states were suing the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured these drugs in an effort to recover some of the cost of treating opioid addiction.
In trying to strike a balance and slow down the opioid addiction crisis, federal and state organizations have worked to change prescribing limits and come up with new creative ways to stop what has become a crisis in our nation.
The AMA has been charting the course of these initiatives and recently published their Opioid Task Force Progress Report. The report outlined some of the recent efforts to reduce access to these addictive medications. Some of the techniques currently being used at the state level include:
- Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are state-wide databases that provide patient information related to these addictive medications. A prescriber can use the database to see if a patient has sought an opioid prescription from another clinician, for example, and then use that data to determine whether more drugs should be offered. According to the AMA report, there are more than 1.5 million healthcare providers and 241,000 individuals registered in these databases. By 2017, there was a 121% increase in the volume of queries by clinicians.
- Naloxone access is increasing. Naloxone is a drug used to counteract drug overdose. The AMA says that prescriptions of this medication more than doubled in 2017. In early 2018, the use of this drug skyrocketed, giving frontline caregivers the tools they need to save lives.
- Evidence-based medication therapies are increasing. The use of drugs like buprenorphine as a medication-assisted therapy to help with opioid withdrawal has increased by 42.2 percent in all 50-states. More than 15,000 physicians around the country are now certified to prescribe the drug.
The most promising sign of these and other efforts to reduce opioid addiction is that the sharpest reduction in opioid prescribing has now occurred. The AMA reports that between 2013 and 2017, the volume of opioid prescribing went down by more than 55 million. All 50 states have seen a reduction in prescribing habits by clinicians. This is a crucial first step to stopping opioid addiction. The math is simple; eliminate the risk of opioid addiction by finding alternative methods of stopping chronic or short-term pain. Then tackle opioid addiction on the backend, when the person is struggling to regain their health.
Now let’s look at how Washington State is mirroring these efforts to help residents recover from opioid addiction.
Washington State and Opioid Addiction
Clearly more must be done. Across the state, residents are still dying from opioid overdoses. The Washington State Office of the Attorney General says that in the most recent year tracked, more residents died from these medications than from car accidents. On average, two people die every day from opioid misuse. In 2017, state lawmakers, administrators, and health care providers came together in a summit to address the issue and came up with the following recommendations that are currently underway in Washington State:
- Curtail clinician overprescribing and thereby reduce opioid addiction by placing limits on the amounts prescribed.
- Address gaps in public knowledge by warning people about the dangers of these drugs.
- Reduce the illegal overuse of prescription opioids by establishing a statewide PDMP.
- Disrupt organizations that traffic narcotics by enabling local law enforcement.
- Increase criminal penalties for trafficking of lethal opioids like fentanyl.
- Improve reporting and information sharing by requiring additional reporting by law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.
- Expand access to addiction treatment facilities by embracing non-traditional and expanded care such as embedded social workers, drug courts, and more.
For some of these efforts to slow down the spread of opioid addiction, more time will be needed to show their true effect. Washington State addiction treatment resources remain our best line of defense to help people struggling with opioid addiction.
These facilities offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient clinical treatment programs that help people back on the road to health. From medically assisted detox to treatment for co-occurring mental illness to individual and group therapy, these programs remain as the safety net for people struggling with opioid addiction. Round-the-clock monitoring is available in Washington State as well as behavioral treatment to change how people handle the disease of opioid addiction. To learn more about admissions to our residential treatment facility, contact us today!