Balancing pain management and public health

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Advertisement for curing morphine addictions from Overland Monthly, January 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I blogged before about the availability of opiates for pain management and the need to try to limit their diversion. While others have complained about draconian limitations on the prescribing of opiates and being too afraid to treat pain, I pointed out the explosion in opiate prescriptions and overdoses. It’s a complex problem that demands a solution that balances the needs of pain patients with the public health risks of easily available opiates.

Here’s a new study looking at the issue [emphasis mine]:

While overdose death rates related to heroin, cocaine, sedative hypnotics, and psychostimulants increased between 1999 and 2009, deaths related to pharmaceutical opioids increased most dramatically, nearly 4-fold. In 2000, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations introduced new standards for pain management which focused on increased awareness of patient’s right to pain relief which contributed to an increase in prescribing of opioid analgesics (Phillips, 2000 and Federation of State Medical Boards of the US, 1998). The average milligrams of morphine prescribed per patient per year increased more than 600% from 1997 to 2007, which led to an increased availability of pharmaceutical opioids for illicit use (US Department of Justice, 2012). From 1999 to 2007, substance abuse treatment admissions for pharmaceutical opioid abuse increased nearly 4-fold and emergency department visit rates related to pharmaceutical opioids increased 111% from 2004 to 2008; visit rates were highest for oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone (SAMHSA, 2009aSAMHSA, 2009b and SAMHSA, 2011). Risks associated with pharmaceutical opioid related overdose included taking high daily doses of opioids and seeking care from multiple healthcare providers to obtain many prescriptions (Paulozzi et al., 2012 and Hall et al., 2008). “Doctor shopping” has also been associated with opioid diversion and illicit use (SAMHSA, 2010 and Rigg et al., 2012). National survey data showed that 75% of pharmaceutical opioid users were using opioids prescribed to someone else (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2010).