Study Reveals Doctors Can Do More to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

Study Reveals Doctors Can Do More to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

As prescription drug abuse now surpasses abuse of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, it's no surprise that the demand for prescription drug detox has also reached record levels. It would seem to be an obvious fact that physicians, the primary source of prescription drugs for the public, have a certain responsibility for the overwhelming epidemic of prescription drug abuse ravaging America. Prescription opioid overdoses are killing record numbers of people not only here, but throughout much of the world. Now, a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine concludes that doctors could go a long way to reducing prescription drug abuse by more closely screening and monitoring patients prescribed opioid painkillers and other addictive drugs. Researchers at Yeshiva University in New York City found that most doctors provide "disturbingly low monitoring rates" for patients taking prescription drugs, such as highly addictive opioid painkillers.

National alliance calls on physicians to implement new Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy

At least 70 million Americans live with chronic pain, and the use of dangerously addictive opioid prescription painkillers has increased the rate of dependencies, addictions and overdose deaths. Prescription drug abuse has been labeled an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 7 million Americans recently abused a prescription drug. Only 8 percent of patients taking opioid painkillers are screened by their doctor to see how they're doing, the Yeshiva researchers said, and fewer than half of all patients on long-term painkiller prescriptions see their physician on a regular basis. Both situations can lead to prescription drug abuse and dependence, which could be markedly improved if physicians would take more responsibility for patients on addictive drugs. The lack of patient education, monitoring and regular follow-up are major factors that lead many patients to fall into prescription drug abuse. And the responsibility for providing the needed patient education, monitoring and follow-up falls directly on the shoulders of the health care professionals dispensing the prescriptions. The Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD), a national alliance of families, medical professionals, law enforcement and drug abuse prevention advocates, has been calling on health care professionals to take more responsibility for protecting patients. "Prescribers can provide higher quality care to their patients and simultaneously protect the public by taking steps to identify potential patterns of prescription drug misuse or abuse," CLAAD spokesperson Michael Barnes said recently.

Patients may not always take opioid painkillers as prescribed. Some may take too little due to cost, side effects, or fear of addiction. Others take too much trying to get more pain relief. The lack of understanding of pain management vs. opioid overdose is the most usual cause of opioid overdose among pain patients taking such drugs. To reduce the potential for misuse and risk of intentional abuse, CLAAD is urging prescribers to make assessment of patient risk, and implement regular monitoring, universal precautions in prescribing for pain management. CLAAD has created a National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy, a policy paper endorsed by more than two dozen not-for-profit health and safety organizations and professional associations. It calls on health care providers to look for preexisting problems, such as mental illness or substance abuse history, and to design appropriate therapy and monitor patients accordingly. Patient monitoring includes the following best practices:

  • Check the state's prescription monitoring database to make sure the patient does not already have access to similar medications;
  • Use "treatment agreements" setting forth the mutual expectations and obligations of the patient and prescriber;
  • Utilize advanced drug testing technologies to identify levels of specific drugs in a patient's system.

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