Tag Archives: opiate addiction

Responsibility for Opiate Epidemic Includes Pharmacies

Opinions abound regarding who all should be held accountable for the surge in opioid addictions and subsequent overdoses in our country. Yes, heroin is leading the pack at the moment, but there were several years leading up to this where painkillers containing substances like oxycodone and hydrocodone were the major culprits, and they are still a major part of the problem today.

A lot of finger-pointing has occurred as to whose fault it was for the number of people becoming dependent. Many place the blame directly on the pharmaceutical companies for the manufacturing and marketing of the drugs. Some people find fault with the doctors who have been over-prescribing the painkillers, although most people only blame the addicts themselves. In truth, these are all correct, but there is another missing element in between the manufacturers, doctors and patients – the pharmacies.

Checks and balances are the framework of our government as well as most businesses and within the health care system. The idea is that one person cannot make sweeping decisions without first consulting or getting approval from a separate entity. This is done to ensure the safety and effectiveness of any decision. For instance, pharmacists make sure that the patient knows how to take their medicine, or alert them if their doctor prescribes them something that may interfere or be dangerous with another medication the person is already taking. Businesses that distribute prescription drugs receive orders from pharmacies and are supposed to alert authorities if a pharmacy is ordering too large quantities for what they need.

However, the checks and balances have failed in places like West Virginia. The state has struggled with the opiate crisis for many years, and they have several counties that lead in prescription overdose death rates. But this is not surprising when one looks at the number of painkillers they had been receiving.

For instance, a pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia ordered 9 million prescription painkiller pills in two years. This pharmacy is located in a town that has 392 residents. This should have set alarm bells off with the distributor, but instead of flagging it as suspicious, they continued to send the pills.

The amount of money being made on these pills may be what compels distributors to look the other way when pharmacies start ordering excessive quantities of the drugs. According to an investigation conducted by reporters at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, three drug companies (McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen) made over $17 billion from West Virginian pharmacies from 2007 to 2012.

“It starts with doctor writing, the pharmacist filling, and the wholesaler distributing. They’re all three in bed together. The distributors knew what was going on, they just didn’t care,” claimed a retired West Virginian pharmacist.

Prescription drug companies have continued to profit off of the painkiller epidemic that is sweeping throughout the country, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over time. Although it is difficult to point the finger at only one entity, what happened in West Virginia highlights the importance of maintaining an honest system that monitors the prescriptions as well as the people filling them.

Preventing Opioid Addiction Goal of New Michigan Surgical Initiative

doctor prescribing opiatesMichigan, like other states, has been hit hard by America’s drug epidemic. A team from the University of Michigan (U-M) is taking action against a key factor in the problem: opioids being prescribed to patients both before and after surgery.

The Department of Health and Human Services will be providing a grant of $1.4 million in funding per year over each of the next five years ($7 million total funding), which will be matched by U-M. The team will be launching an initiative that will help doctors and hospitals across Michigan address surgical patients’ pain without putting them at high risk for becoming new chronic opioid users, misusers or addicts.

Michigan Opioid Engagement Network Will Prescribe Fewer Narcotics

The program, called the Michigan Opioid Engagement Network (Michigan OPEN), has set as its goal to reduce the number of opioids being prescribed to Michigan surgery patients by 50 percent. It also wants to lower the number of patients still using opioids several months after surgery by the same rate.

Based in the U-M Medical School and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, Michigan-OPEN will work with existing networks of hospitals, doctors and nurses across the state. The team will be working with 12 of these networks to understand and use best practices for managing pain for their patients, which includes using opioid pain medications wisely.

“Surgeons prescribe nearly 40 percent of opioid painkillers in Michigan, but have few resources to guide them on best use of the drugs by patients before and after surgery,” according to Chad Brummett, M.D., who is of Michigan-OPEN’s three leaders and the director of the Division of Pain Research in the U-M Department of Anesthesiology. “We hope that by working with surgical teams across the state, we can fill that gap for the benefit of individual patients and our state as a whole.”

According to U-M researchers, approximately 10 percent of patients who weren’t taking opioid medications before they undergo surgery become dependent on them after the procedure. This dependency can open the door to misuse and addiction to prescription and illegal drugs.

How Michigan-OPEN Will Help to Prevent Addiction

Opioid abuse in Michigan is already a widespread issue that costs the state nearly $2 billion each year. Mortality rates are increasing faster than in other states. Michigan-OPEN will move quickly to distribute evidence-based information and advice to health care teams and treatment programs statewide.

Special attention will be paid to patients currently on Medicaid insurance. Patients in this category make up 12 percent of those having surgery, but account for close to one-third of those who develop a post-surgical opioid dependence.

Michigan-OPEN will also work with patients who are already taking opioids prior to surgery. A U-M study has found that care for these patients costs nine percent more than for patients who did not use opioids before their procedure. It also resulted in more complications and readmissions than for patients of similar age, health and insurance status.

Michigan-OPEN teams will work with patients and their healthcare team to create strategies they can use to reduce the number and level of opioids being prescribed and dependence on these types of drugs. One strategy that can be implemented is for surgeons to discuss pain management expectations and concerns with the patient before surgery.

Surgeon General Asks All Doctors to Help Reduce Prescription Opioid Problem

sgrxThe 19th Surgeon General of the United States of America, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., has issued a landmark letter to all physicians seeking help to address the opioid epidemic in the country. He acknowledges the critical role that doctors have played in partially creating the problem through the over-prescription of narcotics, while at the same time asserts that they can help to greatly reduce the crisis as well.

“Everywhere I travel, I see communities devastated by opioid overdoses. I meet families too ashamed to seek treatment for addiction,” Dr. Murthy wrote, citing that overdose deaths have quadrupled in America since 1999.

He also noted that the responsibility is shared with pharmaceutical companies as well as patients, stating, “Nearly two decades ago, we were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, often without enough training and support to do so safely. This coincided with heavy marketing of opioids to doctors. Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.”

Dr. Murthy asked his fellow physicians to take a pledge to reduce prescription opioid abuse at a special website set up at www.TurnTheTideRx.org, which also includes helpful information on recommended prescribing practices, non-narcotic alternatives for treating pain, resources for patients who become addicted and other helpful information. The goal is to address the problem from all sides within their profession.

“First, we will educate ourselves to treat pain safely and effectively. A good place to start is the enclosed pocket card with the CDC Opioid Prescribing Guideline. Second, we will screen our patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment. Third, we can shape how the rest of the country sees addiction by talking about and treating it as a chronic illness, not a moral failing,” the Surgeon General wrote.

If you have a loved one who is battling an opioid dependency, contact us today to speak with a treatment consultant who can help you find an appropriate rehab center.