With deaths from opioid overdoses up sharply, a number of organizations are calling for systematic changes to curb the prescription of opioids while also making it easier for patients with addiction problems to access evidence-based treatment. New data from the National Center for Health Statistics underscore the scope of the problem: Deaths related to prescription overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014, nearing the 19,000 mark. Deaths linked to heroin reached 10,574, a three-fold increase from 2010.
- In response to the opioid problem, the CDC has unveiled draft guidelines directing physicians to consider alternative treatments for pain before turning to opioids. When opioids must be used, the guidelines encourage physicians to opt for shorter-acting versions rather than extended-release forms, and they suggest that physicians incorporate strategies to mitigate the risk of overdose, such as offering naloxone to patients in specific high-risk groups.
- The draft guidelines also call for physicians to ask patients to take urine tests before prescribing opioids, and to continue requiring the urine tests at least once per year if patients continue on the drugs. This is to identify patients who may be supplementing their prescribed dosages.
- New research reported in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that the over-prescribing of opioids is a problem shared by a broad cross-section of health professionals, not a small subset, as some have suggested.
- A new report, led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, recommends significant improvements in the way opioids are prescribed and dispensed as well as in the way patients with addictions or overdoses are identified and managed in the healthcare system.