More Americans die every year from drug overdoses than in motor vehicle accidents, and the majority of those overdoses involve prescription opioids. The exploding opioid abuse epidemic in the United States has, in part, been fueled by the startling number of prescriptions for opioids being written by health care professionals. The 259 million prescriptions filled in 2012 represented enough for every American adult to have a bottle.
About 200 people fill the gymnasium at the East End Family Resource Center in Charleston, W.Va., to hear President Obama discuss the nation's opioid crisis. AAFP President Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., attended the Oct. 21 event, during which Obama announced his administration will partner with dozens of health care professional organizations -- including the Academy -- to bolster clinicians' ability to prevent and manage opioid abuse.
Another sobering fact: Four out of five people who use heroin, which is in the same class of drugs, start out by misusing prescription opioids.
So on Oct. 21, in the most expansive effort to date to fight this national health crisis, the AAFP joined President Obama and a number of public- and private-sector partners to announce new efforts(www.whitehouse.gov) to address the nation's epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin use.
During an event in Charleston, W.Va.,(www.whitehouse.gov) the president was joined by individuals and families affected by the epidemic, as well as by health care professionals -- including AAFP President Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., of York, Pa. -- law enforcement officers and community leaders working to prevent addiction and respond to its aftermath.
West Virginia was chosen as the backdrop for this discussion because it has the unfortunate distinction of boasting the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the United States.
"This crisis is taking lives. It's destroying families. It's shattering communities all across the country," Obama said during the event. "And that's the thing about substance abuse -- it doesn't discriminate. It touches everybody -- from celebrities to college students, to soccer moms, to inner-city kids. White, black, Hispanic, young, old, rich, poor, urban, suburban, men and women," he added.
- On Oct. 21, the AAFP joined President Obama and a number of public- and private-sector partners in announcing a unified effort to address the nation's epidemic of opioid abuse and heroin use.
- The Academy has pledged in the next two years to enhance family physician education in opioid prescribing practices, increase the number of family physicians who complete training in providing medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, and boost overall awareness about opioid abuse and pain management.
- The more than 40 stakeholder groups involved in this initiative -- including family physicians, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants and others -- have committed to having more than 540,000 health care professionals complete opioid prescriber training in the next two years.
"This could happen to any of us in any of our families."
After the event, Filer told AAFP News that family physicians take pain seriously. "But we need to take a good look at our patients, identify who's at risk for addiction and try to get them the relief that they need -- and that might not be opioids used on a regular basis," she said.
In support of this critical public health issue, the Academy has pledged, in the next two years, to increase
- family physician education in opioid prescribing practices,
- the number of family physicians who complete training in how to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT)(www.samhsa.gov) for opioid addiction, and
- overall awareness about opioid abuse and pain management.
"This year, we're going to do a better job (as an Academy) to kick it up a notch in the training that we will do," Filer said.
At the individual level, she said, family physicians should be sure to take a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMs) course and familiarize themselves with the MAT training programs provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
"Know where (MAT programs) are in your community and either refer to them or create one to work out of your own practice, if you have the capacity to do so," Filer said. "It's also important to advocate in the community about alternative methods to opioids to manage pain."
The AAFP's commitment is part of the administration's broader effort to address the nation's epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin use.
In total, the more than 40 stakeholder groups involved in this initiative -- including family physicians, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists and educators -- committed to
- have more than 540,000 health care professionals complete opioid prescriber training in the next two years;
- double the number of physicians certified to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment -- from 30,000 to 60,000 -- in the next three years;
- double the number of clinicians who prescribe naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose;
- double the number of health care professionals registered with their State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs in the next two years; and
- reach more than 4 million health care professionals with awareness messaging about opioid abuse, appropriate prescribing practices and actions they can take to be a part of the solution in the next two years.
Additional Support for the Initiative
In addition, ABC, CBS, Google, the National Basketball Association, The New York Times, Major League Baseball and other high-profile organizations will donate millions of dollars in media space for public service announcements about the risks of prescription drug misuse that will be produced by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
Also on Oct. 21, the president issued a memorandum to federal departments and agencies(www.whitehouse.gov) directing them to take two important steps to combat prescription drug abuse and heroin use.
First, to help ensure that health care professionals who prescribe opioids are properly trained in opioid prescribing and to establish the federal government as a model, the memorandum requires federal departments and agencies to provide training on the prescribing of these medications to federal health care professionals who prescribe controlled substances as part of their federal responsibilities.
Second, to improve access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use, the memorandum directs federal departments and agencies that directly provide, contract to provide, reimburse for or otherwise facilitate access to health benefits to conduct a review to identify barriers to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders and develop action plans to address those barriers.
Also in support of this initiative, CVS Health plans to allow CVS/pharmacy to dispense naloxone without patients needing to present an individual prescription pursuant to a standing order from a physician or a collaborative practice agreement in an additional 20 states in 2016. In addition, the company will launch a new drug abuse prevention program called Pharmacists Teach, in which its pharmacists will make 2,500 presentations in high-school health classes.
The Fraternal Order of Police will provide its 330,000 members with an Opioid Overdose Resuscitation card to help identify and respond to overdoses. The group also will educate thousands of its members through in-person and webinar overdose prevention trainings in the next year.
Background on Effort
In 2010, the president released his first National Drug Control Strategy, which emphasized the need for action to address opioid use disorders and overdose, while ensuring that individuals with pain receive safe, effective treatment.
Since then, the administration has supported and expanded community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue "smart on crime" approaches to drug enforcement, improve prescribing practices for pain medication, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths and support the millions of Americans in recovery.
The most recent data show that the rate of overdoses involving prescription pain medication is leveling off, although it remains at an unacceptably high level. But the dramatic rise in heroin-related overdoses -- which nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013 -- shows the opioid crisis is far from over.
As such, the president's fiscal year 2016 budget includes $133 million in new funding aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic, including expanding state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, MAT programs and access to naloxone.
Related AAFP News Coverage
Opioid Abuse Task Force: Increasing Access to Naloxone Saves Lives