Views & Perspectives: Opioid epidemic is mind numbing



The opioid epidemic is mind numbing, and the death toll is staggering. According to the CDC, 200,000 people have died from overdoes involving prescription opioids. Of the people using illicit opioids, 80 percent began their addiction with prescription drugs.

The deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. The CDC estimates that as many as 1 in 4 patients taking opioids for chronic non-cancer pain struggle with addiction. There are 1,000 patients seen in the emergency rooms every day for misuse of prescription opioids.

According to a report from The Council of Economic Advisors, the cost of the opioid epidemic has been $504 billion. The economic cost of prescription opioids is astounding, and the harm to children and families is incalculable. In spite of all the damage from opioids, there is no evidence that widespread use of opioids has reduced pain in this country. The opioid crisis has reached a tipping point in many communities across the country including Central Illinois.

Twenty four state legislatures have injected themselves directly into an unprecedented, bizarre role of passing laws limiting and regulating how providers can prescribe opioids. States have resorted to legislating opioids due to the immediate catastrophic threats to vital communities. Lawmakers are not scientists and most are not physicians. These laws have the unintended consequence of providers refusing to treat pain and patients who cannot get their medications.

The primary responsibility of ensuring the public safety related to prescription drugs lies squarely with the FDA. In order to mitigate the clear and unprecedented harm from opioids, all stakeholders must work together to come up with both short and long term solutions. Provider and patient education is the single most effective mechanism to improve the safety of opioid prescribing. Requiring providers to increase documentation to justify a dose is a requirement that will increase the administrative burden and cause frustration for providers and patients alike. In order to arm providers with the relevant, accurate and latest information, the FDA must take bold steps to make all providers and patients aware of the current evidence and expert recommendations regarding opioids.

Congress recently passed a long-term spending bill that includes additional funding to address the opioid epidemic. One other additional issue being addressed is the sharing of information within the medical community between physicians and patients. It will take some legislative action by Congress to fully fix this information sharing issue.

I am very proud of my daughter Dr. Amy LaHood who practices medicine in Indianapolis for her work in Indiana to educate her doctor colleagues throughout Indiana about the misinformation and confusion regarding the opioid epidemic. Finally, there seems to be recognition that it will take the entire medical and professional communities to bring the opioid crisis under control. Everyone working together with the most up to date information is the only solution to solving this crisis.

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