Combating the Opioid Epidemic: Is This the Solution?
Did you know that every day, over 90 Americans die from overdoses linked to opioid misuse? And the opioid crisis is only intensifying…
In addition to the tragic impact on human lives, opioid dependence and addiction places a social and economic strain on the nation as a whole.
As researchers struggle to find solutions, some are looking at ways to better control the prescribing process.
Types of Opioids
Opioid drugs include the illegal substance heroin, as well as legal pharmaceutical drugs that can be obtained via prescription, including as hydrocodone (known as Vicodin), oxycodone, morphine for pain, and the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
Doctors began prescribing these medicines to help patients manage pain in the late 1990s, assured by the major pharmaceutical companies that use would not result in addiction. However, for many patients, the drugs’ powerful numbing effect on the nervous system, as well as the associated feeling of euphoria, opened a gateway to addiction, leading to the widespread problems prevalent today.
Are Prescribing Guidelines the Answer to the Opioid Crisis?
One group of researchers from the University of Michigan recently studied post-surgery patients across Michigan to learn how much pain medication they actually used during their recovery from 11 common operations. The group, called the Michigan Opioid Prescribing and Engagement Network (OPEN), worked in collaboration with the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative to create evidence-based prescribing guidelines.
Released as an online tool, the guidelines are free and available to any surgical group that performs the procedures included. Physicians who have used the recommendations have reported positive results.
Another potential area of change could originate from tighter insurer-based regulations, such as requiring prior authorization, provider-patient agreements, or step therapy with opioid prescriptions.
A research team from Yale University reviewed prescription drug plan formulary files from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2006, 2011 and 2015. The group found that in 2015, one-third of opioid medications were prescribed without restrictions, a reduction from two-thirds prescribed without restrictions in 2006. While that represents an improvement, it is still a significant quantity of medications allowed without prescribing limitations. The study also showed that while limits in the quantities of pills prescribed did increase over the years, the type of dosage restrictions recommended by the CDC only accounted for 13% of prescriptions covered in 2015.
Prescribing recommendations can be an effective strategy in controlling opioid addiction, the group reports, pointing to a previous study of a private insurer which reported a 15% decrease in opioid prescribing when the insurer implemented restrictions. The group calls this an “untapped opportunity” for Medicaid and Medicare formularies, which is often the standard looked to by other insurers.
The misuse of seemingly innocent pain medications leading to today’s opioid crisis is of national concern, but taking a closer look at the prescribing process may contribute to a reduction in opioid addiction.
Moreover, the toll the opioid epidemic is taking on American lives is staggering, and despite the widespread attention it’s receiving by the media, the crisis is only amplifying. Check out our article Doctors, Big Pharma or the FDA — Who’s Really to Blame for the Opioid Crisis in America? for everything you need to know.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.