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Exploring Real Solutions to the Opioid Crisis in America

The Opioid crisis continues to wreak a staggering toll on the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse tells us, “2018 data shows that every day, 128 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.1 The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”

Substance Abuse and Opioid Misuse Have Created a Public Health Emergency

The HHS Secretary has declared a public health emergency in response to increased use and abuse of prescription opioids. Professional licensing boards, federal agencies, local law enforcement and multiple provider types are on the front lines of this serious epidemic. Investigative and enforcement actions are originating from a variety of sources under these agencies including the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Unit, Prescription Interdiction and Litigation (PIL) Task Force and data analytics. The following statistics demonstrate the extent of the problem:

  • Sales of prescription opioids have increased 4 times over two decades.
  • Opioid-related deaths have increased 2 times in that same period.
  • The leading cause of accidental death is drug overdose.
  • 75% of heroin users began by misusing prescription opioids.

Ways to Combat Opioid Misuse

Just as for other challenging diseases, healthcare providers have some ideas about how to fix the opioid crisis and what to do in response to substance abuse. Some of these solutions to the opioid crisis include:

  • Prevention and Evidence-Based Practice -- The most important effort, according to a HealthStream blog post, is to “prevent the disease from ever happening and use evidence-based practices to treat those affected.”
  • Improved Prescription Management -- Likewise, managing prescriptions better can help, in terms of prescribing less and doing so more appropriately as a means of limiting the drug supply on the street. Proper storage and disposal of leftover drugs in homes.
  • Make Medication-Assisted Treatment Available -- Healthcare providers should ensure that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is prescribed—it is the most effective known intervention for long term recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD).  MAT combines one of three Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications (methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone) with behavioral therapy for preventing relapse and for maintenance treatment of OUD. Healthcare professionals must work to make this treatment more widely available, fight the scorn often directed at those on MAT, and help them get accepted into treatment programs.
  • Increase Regulatory Oversight and Strengthen Compliance Measures – A HealthStream post focused on compliance shares that “in addition, many state legislatures are requiring providers to utilize the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) to monitor patients’ previous prescription drug use before prescribing opioids. State licensing boards are using the PDMP as part of licensure renewal by monitoring prescribers’ patterns and some states are releasing data on a providers prescribing practices to an organization’s chief medical officer or director. Also, providers’ prescribing behavior is under close scrutiny. Many providers are voluntarily surrendering their DEA numbers to avoid being subject to the increased risks of prescribing opioids. Providers are required to complete mandatory training on opioid prescribing in several states, and this number may increase.
  • Educate Healthcare professionals – Everyone in healthcare should understand their role and responsibilities in finding solutions to the opioid crisis, from clinicians down to patient access staff. A HealthStream post reminds us that “It's our job in healthcare to know where those who suffer can get help.” Also, “Clinicians and staff should be prepared on what to do when you do come across somebody who's likely experiencing an opioid overdose.”

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, there are factors specific to addiction that make the COVID-19 pandemic more dangerous for those susceptible to opioid abuse or other substance-related problems. Complications include social isolation, the exacerbation of existing mental health issues, and the risk of COVID-19 complications. To learn more about these factors that affect efforts to fix the opioid crisis and some recommendations for moving forward under our current special circumstances, click here to access our webinar, The Effects of COVID-19 on the Opioid Crisis.

Using Training to Improve Patient Outcomes

HealthStream provides training solutions focused on improved patient outcomes. Using the right tools to help clinicians make informed decisions and reduce costly mistakes minimizes risk while maximizing competence. An outcomes-based delivery system requires it.  HealthStream has partnered with Aspenti Health to offer a comprehensive and cost-effective way to drive the responsible administration of opioids and effectively identify and address opioid use disorder. Learn more at HealthStream.com/Aspenti

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