It’s no secret that the opioid epidemic has been growing exponentially in America since the drug’s introduction during World War I. Between an initial lack of understanding and its rapid spiral out of control, physicians and other medical professionals are now on the front lines of battling this widespread issue. As a result, an increasing number of state medical boards are beginning to require physicians add opioid CME courses to their continuing education.
Current Opioid Epidemic
Unsurprisingly, opioids like heroin and oxycodone are highly addictive and dangerous. According to The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), more than two-thirds of all overdose deaths in 2016 were due to opioids. As stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at least 130 people die every day from overdosing on opioids. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths in the US is now 6 times higher, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not only are opioids one of the leading causes of death, but they’re also creating a huge financial burden on the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the yearly cost of prescription opioid misuse (for services like health care, addiction treatment, or criminal justice involvement) is near $78.5 billion dollars. With unfathomable numbers, how can the healthcare industry fight this epidemic, instead of contributing to it?
Why are Physicians on the Front Lines?
Physicians are finding themselves fighting this issue head-on, whether that be through state and board mandated programs, such as required CME relating to Opioids, or through their own internal and community-wide projects. These projects vary greatly from style and size, such as simply prescribing less, like one University of Michigan doctor, Chad Brummett, MD, is doing, (he equates it to people eating more if given a bigger plate with more food on it), or, through a more holistic, personalized approach like a group of doctors at the University of Chicago Medicine system. This group believes each abuser needs to be treated differently and specifically depending on a myriad of conditions.
However, these front lines don’t only occur in hospital and surgical settings. Many primary care physicians are getting resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including a model to help screen patients who may be abusing, or are at risk of abusing opioids. The hope is to stop the abuse before it even happens.
Training Physicians for the Opioid Epidemic
Although the lack of education on the proper use of opioids kickstarted this major public health problem in the first place, education is also the way to fight it. Through continuing medical education courses, practicing physicians and other medical professionals can maintain competence and learn about new and developing areas of their practice.
As more state medical boards start mandating opioid CME courses as part of their annual continuing education requirements, more medical professionals will be better equipped on how to safely prescribe opioids, learn about the harmful effects and abuse of such drugs, and prevent the opioid epidemic from getting worse.
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