Curbing Opioid Use: Changing Prescription Behaviors

May 10, 2016 Carol Cohen

The opioid epidemic has reached alarming levels, becoming a serious public health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014 was a record year, as it marked the highest number of deaths recorded for a single year ever. A majority of these deaths (six in 10) involved opioid use, including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin.

Chronic pain sufferers are a specific patient population susceptible to opioid misuse or overuse. The condition affects an estimated 100 million American adults. To put that into perspective, chronic pain affects more people than heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer combined. If chronic pain is not treated correctly, the results can be debilitating – for not only the patient but also the costs to healthcare and society. Chronic pain sufferers cost $635 billion annually in medical treatment and lost productivity. At the root of this massive economic impact is a much bigger and darker problem: opioid addiction.

Opioids are currently one of the most commonly prescribed drugs used to treat chronic pain, but their extremely addictive nature – combined with inconsistent prescribing practices – has created a major issue in today’s healthcare landscape.

A recent Premier Inc. study, which followed chronic pain patients who visited the emergency room, uncovered suboptimal opioid prescribing practices in many of these patients including:  

  • When a patient is taking several different medications at the same time, including prescriptions for a different illness or condition and opioids for chronic pain, the combination can foster adverse health events.
  • The misuse of short-acting opioids (which last for up to four hours) for chronic pain , often creates gaps in pain relief and may influence a patient’s decision to increase use of these specific opioids to alleviate pain.

 The findings highlight how it is more important than ever to raise awareness of the dangers of these prescribing practices and potential for opioid addiction.

The CDC and the White House have taken notice of its importance by implementing new treatment guidelines for chronic pain and funding initiatives to help fight opioid addiction.

So, according to the CDC what can practitioners do to improve the treatment of chronic pain and ensure patient safety?

  • Start by using non-opioid therapies such as exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-inflammatories to treat chronic pain.
  • If opioids need to be used, prescribe the lowest effective dosage possible and start with immediate release opioids instead of extended-release.
  • Be aware of your patient’s family medical and addiction history before prescribing opioids.
  • Follow-up with your patients to make sure the opioids are treating their pain without causing harm.

To learn more about the opioid medication prescribing practices for chronic pain treatment uncovered in the setting of all-cause visits to Emergency Departments, CLICK HERE.

Author information

Carol Cohen

Carol Cohen

I’m a medical writer from California who works for Premier Inc. (Charlotte, NC) and writes about health economics and outcomes research in a variety of therapeutic settings. When I’m not working you’ll find me either in the kitchen cooking, in the gym exercising or enjoying word games. Connect with me at Linkedin Carol Fisher Cohen.

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