Opioid Safety and Prevention

National Opioid Safety & Prevention Program

More than 2.4 million Americans now have a severe opioid-use disorder, which includes dependence on heroin and also prescription opiate drugs that are known by many names including fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, OxyContin, Vicodin, Codeine, Dilaudid, Percocet, and illicit “street” versions of these same drugs.  The incidence of heroin initiation is 19 times higher among those who report prior abuse of pain medications.  Studies have shown that today about 75% to 86% of heroin users started with prescription opioid pain relievers.  So the first exposure to opiates is far more likely to come not from heroin (as was overwhelmingly true in the 1960’s), but rather from prescription drugs.

In further examining the root cause, there’s startling evidence that opiate addiction may often originate simply by following your doctor’s orders, i.e. not from prescription drug abuse, where the prescription drugs were obtained illegally or misused, but through addiction after receiving and following a legitimate prescription.  A 2012 Canadian study (Webster et. al.) showed that 22% of people who were prescribed opioids by their doctors for long-term pain management started abusing the pills.  Especially for people at high genetic risk of addiction, giving them even a short dose of prescription opiate medications may be too much for them to handle, like giving them a loaded gun without any training or warning.

Especially for people at high genetic risk of addiction, giving them even a short dose of prescription opiate medications may be too much for them to handle, like giving them a loaded gun without any training or warning.

Thankfully, in 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a new guideline for prescribing opioids, where they made it clear to physicians that opioid therapy is not recommended for treatment of chronic pain.  But this new guidance, and similar guidance from other medical organizations, is tough for doctors to follow, as they are often demonized by patients if they try to “take away” their opiates.  The physicians have no straightforward alternatives, because there is no widely accessible, affordable, and effective way to help chronic pain patients to reduce or eliminate use of opioids while maintaining pain relief.

Our National Opioid Safety & Prevention Program is a personalized program geared towards solving this vexing issue.  It is not only intended to benefit patients and their familities, but also pain management physicians, ER docs, oral surgeons, and other healthcare professionals who are put in challenging dilemmas about the need to prescribe or refill opioids, and those who want to ensure their patients are given proper long-term care and attention.