Since the dawn of the devastating opioid epidemic that ripped through the United States at the tail end of the 90s, there have been many changes made to prescribing guidelines regarding strong addicting pain medication. Early on, many physicians weren’t aware of the destructive properties of the latest opioid brands on the market, as the most recent formulations were very new and also very effective at relieving pain.
Under the impression that these medications were perfectly safe, many patients would walk away from seemingly routine surgical procedures or doctor’s appointments with scripts for 30 or more pills of strong addicting pain medications, particularly OxyContin®. These former prescribing practices would prove to be one of the biggest culprits of the opioid epidemic, leading nearly 30% of patients down the road of addiction.
Strong Addicting Pain Medication
The consequences of strong addicting pain medication came to light quickly when overdose deaths involving prescription opioids began to spike in the early 2000s. Between 1999 and 2018, almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving prescription opioids, with a “second wave” occurring in 2010 with even more overdose deaths involving heroin. The third wave of overdose deaths was as recent as 2013 with the prevalence of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The trend showed that at least 4-6% of people who began to misuse their prescription opioids eventually transitioned to illicit opiates like heroin due to the cost or difficulty in obtaining prescription medications. Considering 249 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2013 alone, that percentage affects many more people when looking at the big picture.
Improving Safety Measures
There are many different kinds of patients that require opioid medication, from chronic pain sufferers to those who are recovering from surgery or life-threatening injuries. In an effort to clamp down on over-prescribing and “doctor shopping” among patients who may be seeking out strong addicting pain medication, new prescribing guidelines were put into place in 2017, changing the way many medical providers deal with patients. Along with the latest recommendations, there were also new systems implemented to ensure that all medical professionals involved, from physicians to pharmacists, could stay up-to-speed like:
- Continuing Medical Education Courses (CMEs) to help providers maintain competence and learn new and developing areas of their expertise
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are state-run electronic databases that track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances to patients keeping all doctors, nurses, and pharmacists updated and alerted to any suspicious or troubling patterns.
- Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)
- Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for Opioid Analgesics
- CDER Conversation: Pediatric pain management options
The efforts made to gain control over the devastating effects of strong addicting pain medication on patients have improved lethal overdose rates with a decrease of 4.6% from 2017 to 2018. These statistics give us a glimmer of hope in containing the insidious opioid epidemic, or at the very least, minimizing the risks of strong addicting pain medication prescribed by medical providers.
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