In an attempt to curb the massive amounts of opioid prescriptions filled annually, new guidelines and health management techniques have been put in place, and have started to show real results.
It is no secret that one of the major topics of change since last year’s announcement of the opioid crisis being a national health emergency was to reduce overprescription and increase safe prescribing practices. That being said, the change was going to have the actually occur, rather than just be discussed.
The upside, 2017 saw the biggest decline in opioid prescriptions in 25 years. The downside, we still have a long way to go.
The Need for Change
According to a report published by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, 2017 was the first year in 25 years that opioid prescriptions have seen a dramatic decrease. Overall, the nation saw a 12% decrease in the total volume of clinically prescribed opioids by morphine milligram equivalents.
Many people are familiar with the phrase “marijuana is a gateway drug”, however, over the last decade, it seems that opioid prescriptions and painkillers are the real culprit for addiction. Every day, hundreds of people are dying due to accidental overdose deaths as a result of abusing or improperly prescribed opioid medications.
The addiction to these pills surprises users by the ease and quick onset of addictive side effects and tendencies. When people go beyond the point of no return with their medication, and can either no longer obtain or afford it, they are often led down the path of harder, cheaper street drugs such as heroin.
One of the top priorities in promoting these new guidelines was going to be increased education and monitoring of prescribing practices by medical professionals. Since the widespread discussion of these guidelines has become a hot button topic, medical professionals and prescribers have become much more stringent on starting new patients on opioid prescriptions, as well as addressing the signs of opioid addiction. For example
In the same vein, laws and regulations have been enforced on providers who are not practicing safe prescribing techniques, which may be forcing many to look at their role in the opioid epidemic. One of these ways is by utilizing Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, which electronically track patients and their prescriptions from any and all healthcare providers, to more easily identify patients who might be “doctor shopping” as well as which prescribers are using unsafe practices.
Specific State Guidelines
Many states have started enforcing new guidelines and state laws to help reduce the necessity for lengthy or unneeded painkiller prescriptions. Some of these new guidelines consist of:
- Limited duration or volume of opioid prescriptions for moderate pain sufferers (ex: no more than a 7 day supply for moderate pain)
- Increasing use and accuracy of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, enabling it to be used across state lines
- Expanding access to patients with chronic pain to turn towards alternative medicine techniques such as dry needling, acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy.
- The 21st Century Cures Act has allocated over $1 billion over two years to help state and local agencies combat the opioid epidemic through working with law enforcement, recovery resources and increased treatment access, expanding the PDMP’s, and train medical personnel
According to a study released by Blue Shield of California Health Plan, “rates of education about narcotic safety and expanded access to alternative pain therapies have produced a 32% decline in opioid use in just two years.”
Since the Trump Campaigns announcement of a National Health Emergency, local and national lawmakers have been pushing for change in the opioid epidemic. The major starting point was the reduction of opioid prescriptions, as well as increased dark web and international trade security.
In August, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the beginning of a new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. This new unit consisted of a team of opioid abuse prosecutors, data analysis strategies to track illegal online purchases of both legal and street drugs, as well as increased trade and border control.
These data analytics go hand in hand with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs that are being revamped for nationwide use. According to Sessions,
“This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information about prescription opioids – like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription;…pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.”
Could This be the Beginning of the End of the Opioid Crisis?
Although these new guidelines and the reduction of new opioid prescriptions are promising, our nation as a whole still has a very far way to go.
While records show that less people are being started on long term opioid maintenance programs, it also shows that a large amount of people are being put onto Medication Assisted Therapy programs. This has been proven to help people stay off of addictive and deadly drugs such as opioid painkillers and heroin, but also proves to be addictive and can sometimes be replacing one addiction with another.
Again, the initial prescription phase for new users is definitely a crucial starting point for medical professionals to be concerned about, there is still much that needs to be done for those who are already in the grips of an opioid prescription addiction. This includes wider access to substance abuse treatment, increased access to affordable psychiatric and counseling assistance, as well as stricter laws on sober living homes to provide safe and supportive environments.
Despite all that, this could be the push that this country has been looking for when it comes to a reduction in the rates of opioid prescriptions. Could this be the beginning of the end of the opioid epidemic?
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