Time is now to defeat the opioid epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than six dozen people in the United States die from prescription opioid and heroin overdoses every day. Nearly 30,000 total in 2014 – more than 250,000 since 1999.

The country is in the middle of an opioid epidemic, as deaths from prescription opioid and heroin-related overdoses currently outpace the number of deaths from car accidents.

{mosads}Physicians are working to bring this epidemic to a halt. The American Medical Association (AMA) is taking aggressive steps to prevent these needless deaths – calling on doctors to step up and fight opioid abuse.

Dr. Steven Stack, president of the AMA, recently issued a national call to action to America’s physicians – highlighting the leadership role they must play in saving their patients and their patients’ families from this deadly epidemic.

Building momentum with support from governors, Congress, and President Obama, physician groups recognize the need for swift action in combating this public health crisis; there is no time to waste.

First, physicians need to register for and use their state prescription drug-monitoring program. 

In a recent survey by the AMA and its Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse, 87 percent of physicians agreed that Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) need improvements – such as the integration of electronic health records – to be more beneficial.

To improve PDMPs and make them more useful, state legislatures and governors must ensure that these tools provide accurate, relevant data in a real-time fashion.

In order for doctors to lead a successful assault on opioid abuse, the AMA also advocates that physicians pursue the education and training necessary to prescribe controlled substances safely and appropriately.

If physicians do not know where to find education that applies to their practice and specialty, many organizations are available to help – from the AMA to state medical societies and specialty societies.

To prepare America’s current and future doctors, states must work with their medical schools and residency programs to ensure that education and training surrounding pain management, substance use disorder, and overdose prevention are part of schools’ curriculum.

The urgency to combat this public health epidemic is what motivated the AMA and the National Governors Association (NGA) to partner in recent weeks.

Together, the AMA and NGA can increase access to treatment and reduce the stigma of having a substance use disorder. Physicians – along with state and national leaders – can help ensure that patients receive comprehensive pain care that does not depend on health plans’ prior authorizations or administrative barriers.

Physicians and lawmakers working together can save lives and end this epidemic.

Most states have now enacted laws to increase access to naloxone – an overdose-preventing drug – and provide Good Samaritan protections to those who help save a life from overdose. But not all states have taken action.

What are they waiting for?

America’s physicians call on these states to support overdose prevention efforts. In Congress and in state legislatures across the country, there is intense pressure to act. The AMA and the nation’s medical societies are working with policymakers on solutions that will have a meaningful impact.

This is one of the few issues today that has broad, bipartisan support.

Physicians understand their vital role in ending this crisis as both a professional and ethical obligation. This epidemic was years in the making, and the solutions will understandably take time. Physicians welcome the responsibility of leading this important effort.

Harris is chair-elect of the American Medical Association and chair of AMA’s Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse.

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