There’s an opioid epidemic in the US, and experts are calling for renewed efforts to combat the problem, BuzzFeed news recently reported.
Nearly half of US states have prescription monitoring programs which require doctors prescribing controlled substances like opioids or benzodiazepines to crosscheck patients’ names with a national database of previous prescriptions.
And now, a new report issued by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health calls for all states to put these programs to use.
“We are in the middle of an opioid epidemic in this country,” Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and one of the authors of the new report, published Monday, told BuzzFeed.
Since opioids also affect the brain regions involved in reward, some people who take them experience a euphoric reaction, according to the National Institutes of Health, and for people predisposed to addiction, experts have suggested these drugs may open the door to later heroin use.
Here’s a chart of overdose death rates in the US between 1999 and 2013:
A recent CDC report found that amongst people they’d studied, those who had abused opiate painkillers were 40 times as likely to abuse heroin as those who did not.
Of course, for many Americans who suffer from acute or chronic pain, prescription painkillers offer a dramatic improvement in their quality of life. “However, misuse, abuse, addiction, and overdose of these products, especially opioids, have become serious public health problems in the United States,” the authors of the report wrote.
The proposed solution
California was the first state to implement a prescription drug monitoring program, in 1939, and today, all states except Missouri have one. However, states differ in who has access to the database information, for instance, law enforcement or insurance companies. Laws also differ as to whether doctors are required to check them.
These programs ensure that when a patient is prescribed a controlled substance, their name and details are entered into a database, which tracks what drugs they have received, how often they got them, and how many different doctors prescribed them.
Some evidence suggests these programs can be beneficial.
When Kentucky started requiring doctors to use the databases in 2012, for example, studies suggested that the numbers of people who specifically visited doctors to try and get prescriptions for controlled substances went down. Research also suggested that as part of that program, fewer drugs were given to people who did not have prescriptions for those drugs.
In addition to calling for more prescription drug monitoring programs, the Johns Hopkins report recommended getting rid of lax prescribing laws and giving pharmacies the resources to prevent drug abuse. It also called for better education and treatments for opioid overdose, and developing community-based inventions.
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