In 2015, this country’s opioid epidemic claimed the lives of more than 33,000 people. People with opioid use disorders die at a rate 20 times higher than those in the general population. This risk of death makes fighting the opioid epidemic a priority for many communities. Here are just five innovative ways that hospitals, public health officials, and others are tackling this pressing issue.
1. Redesigning Pills
Some opioids, such as morphine, are ripe for abuse simply because of the way that the pills are constructed. The FDA has come up with several ways to combat abuse by both changing the way that the drugs are made and how they work. For example, drug makers can include an opioid antagonist in their formulations, which would reduce the euphoric high that results from overuse and abuse. Targinq ER is one example of a drug formulated in this manner.
Another option is to design drugs so that they must be implanted instead of taken orally. This will require that these time-release drugs only be given under medical supervision. Even with these safeguards, some are still diverted.
2. Strict Prescription Monitoring
In the past, patients who had a prescription substance use disorder tended to doctor-shop. This means that an addict would go to several physicians to receive prescriptions for the same drugs. Thanks to stricter prescription drug monitoring programs, this practice has been all but eliminated. Now, physicians and emergency departments can look up what prescriptions a patient has received in a central database.
Unfortunately, these monitoring programs did not cross state lines until just recently. Now, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) is helping to fund at least nine states trying to combine their systems, and the programs are already producing results. The state of Illinois saw a 22 percent drop in the total number of opioid prescriptions written with this program.
3. Sue Opioid Manufacturers
A large part of the reason for the current opioid epidemic is tied to the actions of big pharmaceutical companies. Ohio’s Attorney General has filed suit against five opioid manufacturers alleging that their fraudulent marketing in regards to the benefits and risks of opiates has led to the state’s opioid epidemic. The suit has been filed against Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, and Teva Pharma and its subsidiary Cephalon. Other states are following Ohio’s lead.
4. Use Artificial Intelligence
IBM Watson Health and MAP Health Management are collaborating on a project to address relapse among people who suffer from a substance abuse disorder. MAP plans to incorporate Watson cognitive technologies into its existing Recovery Network Platform. This will enhance the program’s ability to assess risk models among specific patients, with better predictors and prevention methods for addiction relapse. Addiction treatment providers that currently use MAP, as well as Aetna Behavioral Health members, will soon receive access to this program.
5. Treat Pain Differently
Several decades ago, nearly every ache and pain was treated with a prescription for opioids. Fortunately, this is no longer the case, but attitudes toward pain and its treatment still need to change quite a bit. The Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) launched a pilot program this year in eight of its hospitals and three emergency departments. The program aims to reduce the number of prescribed opioids by using alternatives to opioids (ALTOs) and use approaches that address the root cause of various types of pain.
While opioid addiction is still considered an epidemic in this country, help is available, and some innovative programs hope to slow overdose deaths.