Opioid abuse is damaging countless communities across the country. Each day more than 115 Americans lose their lives to opioid abuse and associated addiction. The opioid crisis transcends education, profession and socio-economic barriers. Moreover, by 2020, America’s opioid epidemic could claim one million lives.
With such a health crisis facing the United States, how do health professionals, especially health risk assessment professionals, help in battling this terrible situation that is ruining lives across the country?
The Opioid Crisis – A Brief History
In the late 1990s, “pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.”
While opioid use started to rise, so did the number of Americans experiencing chronic pain, especially older Americans. When looking at the number of Americans plagued with chronic pain, it is estimated that “more than 30% of Americans have some form of acute or chronic pain. Among older adults, the prevalence of chronic pain is more than 40%.” Thus, the medical community began to utilize opioids in the management of chronic pain. This standard of care grew so fast that opioid painkillers become the “most commonly prescribed class of medication in the United States.” It is this combination of greater access to opioids coupled with the large number of Americans living with chronic pain that has greatly fueled the opioid epidemic in the United States.
The Opioid Crisis by the Numbers: 2010 to 2014
- 2010, enough of the medication OxyContin was prescribed to keep every adult in America high for an entire month.
- 2012, enough prescriptions were written to give every American adult their own personal bottle of pills.
- 2013, More than a third (37%) of the 44,000 drug-overdose deaths that were reported were attributable to pharmaceutical opioids; heroin accounted for an additional 19%.
- 2014, S. retail pharmacies dispensed 245 million prescriptions for opioid pain relievers.
The Role of the Healthcare System in the Opioid Crisis
While the role of drug makers is clear in the opioid epidemic, the role of providers and healthcare institutions must be examined. For example, the “major source of diverted opioids is physician prescriptions.” Thus, “physicians and medical associations have begun questioning prescribing practices for opioids, particularly as they relate to the management of chronic pain.”
While the debate regarding the prescribing practices for opioids within the healthcare community continues, it is crucial for HRA professionals to grasp the patient experience with opioid abuse fully. When an HRA professional has a more accurate view of a patient’s situation, they are better equipped to identify patients at risk of opioid addiction and to help those struggling with addiction.
The Patient Experience With Opioids
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
The Role of HRA Professionals in the Opioid Crisis
HRA professionals play a vital role in patient care, especially for patients dealing with opioid abuse and associated addiction. First, HRA professionals can identify patients at risk for opioid addiction with screening tools that target patients being treated for chronic pain with opioids. Second, for patients who are struggling with opioid addiction, HRA professionals can assist with the treatment process, especially once a patient has left a treatment facility. Last, HRA professionals can aid patients in recovery by monitoring their overall health.
Moving Toward the Future
HRA professionals are vital in the fight against opioid addiction. Through the use of screening tools, HRA professionals can treat patients at risk for opioid addiction, those battling addiction and patients in recovery.
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