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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tapering the American Opioid Epidemic

Efforts to better manage patient pain were arguably the leading cause of the crisis we face today with both prescription opioids and heroin. It goes without saying that people suffering from both acute and chronic pain need access to effective treatments, which at times requires the use of prescription opioids; however, past and current prescribing practices have been flagrantly irresponsible, and require alterations.

New research suggests that there a few things that could be done to mitigate the epidemic the United States faces, Medical Xpress reports. The findings were published in the journal Substance Abuse.

Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University found that the amount of opioids prescribed and used could be drastically reduced through 'medical provider training, new clinic policies and efforts to "taper" opioid use for pain treatment.' Experts report that in the last 20 years, opioid prescribing rates have surged by 600 percent.

The research involved 514 patients currently prescribed opioids for long durations, according to the article. The researchers found that 37 percent of patients who were part of the group, whose physicians received an aggressive education program, were able to taper their dose to safe levels. What’s more, the patients who were taking smaller opioid doses did not report an increase in pain levels. Raising both doctor and patient awareness regarding the dangers of prolonged opioid use can cut prescribing rates and save lives, but will it be enough to curb the epidemic? It may not be!

"The approach used in this study showed progress, but not enough," said Dr. Melissa Weimer, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in a news release. "We'd rather have a higher success rate. But in some cases we're dealing with a generation of patients who have been prescribed high-dose opioids for many years."

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