In the News: The Urgent Public Health Priority to Reduce the Opioid Epidemic
In response to a request by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) published a comprehensive report late last week on what must be done to overhaul current opioid policies. The resulting report, “Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic: Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use,” recommends actions the FDA, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and health-related organizations should take to better understand the nature of pain and develop non-addictive alternatives. We are pleased to see that the NASEM is providing recommendations to curb the opioid epidemic while keeping the chronic pain community top-of-mind.
Citing research, the report revealed that among patients prescribed opioid pain relievers, at least 8 percent develop “opioid use disorder.” The panel was “struck by the relative lack of attention to educating the general public about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids.” Dr. Mark Schumacher, of University of California, San Francisco’s pain medicine division and one of the panel members who contributed to the report, noted the issue of “misaligned incentives,” such as policies that allow insurers to adjust the costs of non-drug therapies, that are currently inhibiting the use of safer alternatives. In addition, he mentioned that education of medical professionals about non-drug approaches to pain are “inadequate and under-resourced,” and that “these tools are not being used to their full potential.”
Using a new proposed “risk-benefit” framework, the committee outlined an action plan aiming to help the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain while reducing unnecessary opioid prescribing. This includes promoting more judicious prescribing of opioids, expanding access to treatment for opioid use disorder, preventing more overdose deaths, weighing societal impacts in opioid-related regulatory decisions, and investing in research to better understand the nature of pain and develop non-addictive alternatives.
This proposal aligns with our vision to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach for treating chronic pain, and exploring new, drug-free alternative treatments. The ongoing need for innovation and awareness for alternative treatment options is something that fuels our work every day. Our hope is that other public health organizations and innovators will collectively work toward this goal to expand treatment options that ultimately may help to curb addiction to opioids while providing new options for the 100 million Americans living with chronic pain.
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