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Stem the Tide: Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

By Jay Bhatt, D.O.
October 23, 2017

The statistics are staggering. Every day, over 90 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled since 1999.

A human crisis in terms of lives lost, ravaged families and communities, certainly. It has spurred a public health crisis, including increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy. But often omitted from the conversation is the fact that it also is inflicting financial harm on a scale not seen in any previous drug crisis. The cost to health care, substance use disorder treatment, and the criminal justice system – and in the workplace in the form of lost earnings and employment – was an estimated $78.5 billion last year.  

According to a report released earlier this year by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), in 2014 there were 1.27 million emergency room visits or inpatients stays for opioid-related issues. This reflects a 64 percent increase for inpatient care and a 99 percent increase in emergency room treatments compared to 2005 levels.

As these numbers clearly reflect, hospitals and health systems serve on the front lines in this crisis every day. We’re using many strategies to help: implementing standard protocols for prescribing opioids; promoting state prescription drug monitoring programs; and encouraging non-opioid pain-management strategies, for instance. And because we can’t solve this problem alone, we’re also partnering with schools, state and local health departments, law enforcement, pharmacies, treatment and prevention programs, and other community stakeholders in this fight.

The AHA’s job is to ensure you have the tools and resources you need to respond to this multifaceted epidemic. If you haven’t done so already, visit our opioid epidemic webpage to see the resources that can help you address the crisis.

Our latest contribution is a new toolkit that provides guidance and information on how you can work with your clinicians, patients, and communities to tackle the problem. It includes resources to share with clinicians, patients, families and caregivers, and community partners.

We’ve vetted the toolkit with subject matter experts, including psychiatrists who specialize in addiction, clinicians, pain management professionals, and a broad array of stakeholders.

The toolkit will receive updates with the latest information and resources that we hope can advance your efforts to end the crisis in your community. On that point, don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to see included in future updates. And please tell us how you use the toolkit. We would like to share with the field the lessons you’ve learned … successful approaches or the challenges you’ve encountered. 

The AHA will continue to share resources and tools that help everyone – hospitals and health system, providers, patients, and communities – address the epidemic. Be assured we are committed to helping you fight a horror that knows no barriers. 

Topic: Quality and Patient Safety
Tag: opioids

Jay Bhatt, D.O., is senior vice president and chief medical officer of the AHA and president and CEO of AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust. He is also a practicing internist.



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