We All have Role to Play in Ending Opioid Crisis
Opioids -- medications used to treat pain and associated with euphoria -- are responsible for as many as 91 overdose deaths every day in the United States.
Today, opioid misuse is a national crisis. In fact, the government declared it an official national emergency earlier this month.
Tennessee ranks second in the country in opioid prescriptions per capita, and ninth in drug-related deaths per 100,000 population. About 5 percent of the state’s population is addicted to opioids, which account for more than 70 percent of deaths from drug overdose.
Between 2010 and 2015, Shelby County’s overall drug overdose mortality rate increased from 15.1 to 21 per 100,000.
In addition to loss of life, other collateral damage of opioid addiction includes the tragic increase in the number of infants born dependent on these drugs, and the significant costs to employers and the public.
A study of costs related to opioid dependence estimated an economic burden of $78.5 billion annually in health care, substance abuse treatment, criminal justice system costs, and lost productivity.
Although all age groups are affected, those 51 to 60 years old have the largest number of dependence diagnoses and insurance claims related to opioid abuse. Men outpace women in insurance claims, dependence diagnoses, and overdose deaths.
As a health care professional and dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, I want to touch on the variety of strategies at the professional and individual level to combat this public health crisis.
My medical colleagues and I must play a role in helping to fight this epidemic. Foremost among our responsibilities are implementing sound prescribing and monitoring practices, educating individuals on the risks and warning signs of opioid dependence, reducing dosages when possible, and exploring alternative pain management options.
We also must lead efforts to educate law enforcement personnel, emergency responders, family members, and friends on the use of agents such as naloxone to reduce deaths resulting from overdose.
Those who have opioids prescribed also have a role to play. They should be proactive in efforts to prevent or address dependence. Patients should not be afraid to communicate with their health care providers regarding their concerns about medications.
They should ask questions regarding non-opioid treatment options, duration of treatment, minimization of use when possible, and counseling or rehabilitation options if dependence becomes a concern. And of course, individuals should avoid recreational use of opioids.
The opioid crisis will not fix itself. We must collectively make the commitment to address the epidemic at multiple levels – in the halls of government, the boardrooms of pharmaceutical companies, health care settings, the criminal justice system, schools, communities, and our own homes.