Los Angeles, CA – The number of prescriptions for opioid medications has decreased almost by half, according to a new report by the American Medical Association (AMA). Yet, the number of fatal opioid overdoses continues to rise. How can both be true?
According to Muse Addiction Treatment Center in Los Angeles, it’s not really a contradiction. The two opposite trends reflect the findings of law enforcement officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- that fatal overdoses are mostly caused by illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine, and cocaine, not prescription opioids.
“The nation’s drug overdose and death epidemic has never just been about prescription opioids,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD. “Physicians have become more cautious about prescribing opioids, are trained to treat opioid use disorder and support evidence-based harm-reduction strategies.”
According to the AMA’s 2021 Overdose Epidemic Report, physicians are writing 44.4% fewer prescriptions for opioids in the past decade; the number of prescriptions dropped nearly 7% from 2019 to 2020. The report also notes that healthcare providers have significantly increased the use of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), which are electronic databases used to detect prescription abuse. Prescribers used the databases more than 910 million times in 2020 compared to 750 million times in 2019, an increase of 21%.
“We use PDMPs as a tool, but they are not a panacea,” Harmon said. “Patients need policymakers, health insurance plans, national pharmacy chains, and other stakeholders to change their focus and help us remove barriers to evidence-based care.”
At the same time, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has warned of an “alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fentanyl-laced fake pills.” The agency recently announced the seizure of 1.8 million fentanyl-laced fake pills – enough to kill more than 700,000 Americans. The seizures by the DEA and partners in state and local law enforcement were among 9.5 million phony pills taken in the past year.
The fentanyl fakes are designed to appear identical to legitimate prescription drugs like Oxycontin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Adderall®, Xanax®, and other medications. They are widely available through black market sources such as social media, e-commerce, and the “dark web,” in addition to traditional distribution networks. Those that mimic opioids like Oxycontin® were responsible for three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020. According to DEA, the number of fake pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019.
The AMA report calls for a shift in thinking about the opioid epidemic so that patients with a legitimate need can get relief through appropriately managed prescriptions. “Until further action is taken,” Harmon said, “we are doing a great injustice to our patients with pain, those with a mental illness, and those with a substance use disorder.”
Among other solutions, the report also recommends enacting laws and regulations to increase access to medications treating opioid use disorder.
Medication-assisted treatment is one of the approaches used at Muse Treatment Center, a Los Angeles-based alcohol and drug rehab center that provides treatment for substance use disorders and related mental health issues. Customized programs use evidence-based methods to help clients discover the root causes of their addictions and develop healthy ways of living without chemical assistance. They include dual diagnosis treatment, in which addiction is not the primary condition but a symptom of a more profound emotional or psychological disorder.
Anyone seeking help for themselves or a loved one can speak to an addiction treatment specialist at any time by visiting Muse Treatment online or calling 800-426-1818.
SOURCE: Press Advantage [Link]