Physician Practice

Physicians do an about-face on pain medications

Physician Practice Insider, September 18, 2017

Treating patients with chronic pain is an ongoing problem for physicians in an era where millions of U.S. residents have opioid-addiction problems. And the issue is prompting physicians to offer patients alternatives to treating pain that don’t involve prescription medications. 

New studies suggest that opioid pain medications continue to be a problem in the U.S. The results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 3.8 million residents aged 12 and older were misusing pain-relief medication in 2015 and that nearly 2 million people had full-fledged addictions to pain medications.

While drug abuse has been a problem for decades, healthcare industry analysts say the current problem with opioid abuse stems from a bygone era when physicians were encouraged to over-prescribe pain medications to patients under the premise that patients were being under-medicated for pain.

“It began when physicians were encouraged to make sure patients were happy and to give them whatever they wanted to ensure they were not in any pain,” says Pamela Ballou-Nelson, a senior consultant with the Medical Group Management Association. “That approach was eventually reversed, but it wasn’t reversed fast enough, and now physicians are in a position where they are picking up the pieces.”

Opioid abuse epidemic

The results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health released in July found that 92 million U.S. adults took a legitimately prescribed opioid medication in 2015 and that 11.5 million people misused opioids that they acquired through illicit means. 

“The proportion of adults who receive these medications in any year seems startling to me,” says study coauthor Winston Compton, MD, deputy director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The study also found that nearly 2 million people have an addiction to opioid medications and that the number of overdoses and overdose deaths from opioids has continued to increase. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of overdose deaths increased 11% to a record 52,204 in 2015.

The study found that deaths from heroin overdoses rose 23% to 12,989 fatalities in 2015 and that deaths related to illicit fentanyl use increased 73% to 9,580. Deaths related to prescription pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin accounted for the largest number of deaths at 17,536 and increased by 4%. And those numbers are expected to increase again when statistics for 2016 are compiled later this year. A spokesperson for the CDC says, “We’ve never seen anything like this, at least not in modern times.”

Read the full article in Physician Practice Perspectives.

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