If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I spend most of my time talking about health care policy, affordability, and ways to fix our broken system. Today, I want to talk about something more personal: the opioid epidemic. This is an issue that hits close to home for many Capital Region families and one that, I’m afraid, has no easy fix.
The Opioid Epidemic
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91 Americans die each day from opioid abuse. That’s more than gun violence, house fires, and drowning deaths combined. What’s more frightening is that this epidemic is taking place in our own backyard. Last year, 506 CDPHP® members had a documented opioid overdose, and those are the just the people we know about.
As a health plan, employer, and citizen of this community, I believe it’s our responsibility to do something. At CDPHP, that something involves a multidisciplinary team of medical directors, pharmacists, nurses, and mental health experts – all of who are working alongside local doctors to curb the number of opioids prescribed in our community.
It Starts with Education and a History Lesson
The use of opioids to treat pain and other ailments began in the late 1800s when Bayer Co. began the first clinical trial of heroin. The poppy derivative was considered a “wonder drug” and was used for everything from a pain reliever to a cough suppressant. Soon thereafter, doctors became aware of heroin’s addictive nature, and in 1924, the drug was outlawed.
Fast forward to the 70s, 80s, and early 90s when drugs like Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin came on the scene and doctors began treating pain as the “fifth vital sign.” At the time, scholarly articles – including one printed in The New England Journal of Medicine – claimed that opioids were patients’ best line of defense for pain management and that “the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction.”
Today, we know those claims were terribly false, and we’re doing everything we can to back pedal on years of overprescribing. But that’s easier said than done. At CDPHP, we’re starting by educating our members, providers, and the community-at-large about the appropriate uses for opioids, as well as alternatives for pain management.
The CDPHP Opioid Initiative
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that opioids provide powerful relief for many responsible, compliant patients who benefit from their pain-reducing effects. But they must be used responsibly. To help ensure this occurs, CDPHP created an opioid initiative with the following goals:
- Provide affordable, accessible, and appropriate pain care
- Prevent new users from becoming chronic users
- Work with chronic/high-dose users to decrease dose and/or discontinue
- Educate providers, members, and employees of CDPHP
- Reduce diversion of prescription medications (transferring a drug from the individual prescribed to another individual)
- Support members who need substance use treatment
At CDPHP, we believe that these are important first steps to address the opioid epidemic, but we know this is not a silver bullet. Combatting the opioid crisis will take collaboration, creativity, and a lot of patience. As we work to find these solutions, I want to offer my support to local families – some I know personally – who are praying for children, parents, brothers, and sisters caught up in this crisis.