When it comes to reducing opioid abuse and overdose deaths, policymakers need to place more emphasis on the problem of physicians who overprescribe the powerful painkillers.
That’s one of the conclusions from a new paper by researchers at Brandeis University, the University of North Florida, and Johns Hopkins University in the journal Annual Review of Public Health. They also call for improved access to opioid addiction treatments.
Andrew Kolodny, MD, of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and colleagues found that since 2002, while new cases of non-medical abuse have declined, deaths from overdosing on painkillers has skyrocketed. Because of this, the researchers claim that recreational use of painkillers is not the main reason for the problem.
Rather, they contend that dramatically rising rates of opioid addiction is the real culprit. They write that since 1997, the number of Americans seeking treatment for painkiller addiction has jumped 900%.
The researchers say that public health strategies that have been used to contain disease outbreaks can also be used in getting the opioid crisis under control.
“By encouraging and, if necessary, requiring prescribers to use [prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP)], and by pro-actively sending them prescription data on their patients, states can help medical providers intervene at an early stage of addiction and get patients who need it into treatment,” John Eadie, a study co-author and director of the PDMP Center of Excellence at Brandeis, said in a statement.
Policymakers need to look beyond just the recreational abuse of opioids in their efforts to reduce overdose deaths, and focus more on the problem of doctors who are overprescribing opioids as painkillers, said researchers at Brandeis University, the University of North Florida, and Johns Hopkins University.
There also needs to be greater access to opioid addiction treatments, they said.
In a new comprehensive study, scientists show that since 2002, new cases of non-medical abuse have gone down, and yet painkiller overdose deaths have soared. This is evidence, they say, that recreational use of painkillers is not a key driver of crisis.