Public Policy

Defeating the opioid epidemic

The U.S. Surgeon General weighs in.

We know that if you keep mom and baby together, baby does better, mom does better, hospital stays are shorter, costs go down, and you’re keeping that family unit intact. This prevents future problems for both the baby and the mother. That’s just one small example.

I’m also very happy to see that the prescribing of opioids is going down 20%-25% across the country. And there are even larger decreases in the military and veteran communities. That’s really a testament to doctors and the medical profession finally waking up. And I say this as a physician myself, as an anesthesiologist, as someone who is involved in acute and chronic pain management.

Four out of five people with substance use disorder say they started with a prescription opioid. Many physicians will say, “Those aren’t my patients,” but unfortunately when we look at the PDMP [prescription drug monitoring program] data across the country we do a poor job of predicting who is and who isn’t going to divert. It may not be your patient, but it could be their son or the babysitter who is diverting those overprescribed opioids.

One thing that I really think we need to lean into as health care practitioners is providing medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. We know that the gold standard for treatment and recovery is medication-assisted treatment of some form. But we also know it’s not nearly available enough and that there are barriers on the federal and state levels.

We need you to continue to talk to your congressional representatives and let them know which barriers you perceive because the data waiver comes directly from Congress.

Still, any ER can prescribe up to 3 days of MAT to someone. I’d much rather have our ER doctors putting patients on MAT and then connecting them to treatment, than sending them back out into the arms of a drug dealer after they put them into acute withdrawal with naloxone.

We also have too many pregnant women who want help but can’t find any treatment because no one out there will take care of pregnant moms. We need folks to step up to the plate and get that data waiver in our ob/gyn and primary care sectors.

Ultimately, we need hospitals and health care leaders to create an environment that makes providers feel comfortable providing that service by giving them the training and the support to be able to do it.

We also need to make sure we’re co-prescribing naloxone for those who are at risk for opioid overdose.

Dr. Anderson: Just so we are clear, are you in favor of regular prescribing of naloxone, along with prescriptions for opioids? Is that correct?

Dr. Adams: I issued the first Surgeon General’s advisory from more than 10 years earlier this year to help folks understand that over half of our opioid overdoses occur in a home setting. We all know that an anoxic brain injury occurs in 4-5 minutes. We also know that most ambulances and first responders aren’t going to show up in 4-5 minutes.

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