U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Wednesday called for more robust training for doctors who prescribe opioids, highlighting the medical community's role in combatting addiction.
Murthy, the nation’s top doctor, called prescribing practices “a key part” of stemming the flow of painkillers, which have led to alarmingly high numbers of overdose deaths across the country.
“If we change prescribing practices, we can change the face of the epidemic,” Murthy said during a 25-minute speech during a Washington Post forum on addiction Wednesday.
The surgeon general is wading into a tricky debate about what has fueled a massive opioid addiction problem in the U.S. — and how to reverse it.
While he was careful not to blame doctors, Murthy specifically pointed to overprescribing in the 1990s as a force behind the epidemic.
"The majority of the supply of misused opioids are coming from legally written prescriptions," he said.
The issue of prescriber training has long pitted groups like the American Medical Association against health officials like those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the CDC supports mandatory prescriber training, the AMA, as well as many health insurers, has resisted that step, arguing that doctors should have flexibility based on their field.
Murthy called on the federal government to make sure doctors “have more tools” to prevent the abuse of powerful painkillers like OxyContin. He also stressed patient education, which he said has been effective in battling the overprescribing of antibioitic medications.
Earlier in the panel, the White House drug czar Michael Botticelli also warned that overprescribing was "one of the top issues" for the federal goverment.
"I don’t think in the middle of an epidemic, it's too much to ask prescribers to take a minimum amount of education," said Botticelli, who has struggled himself with addiction.