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Education and New Policies Help But Not Solving The Opioid Crisis

Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University have published in the journal “Substance Abuse.” The study is the first to show that the efforts being made by professionals in the healthcare field are making a difference in the numbers of people becoming dependent and/or addicted to opioid medications. This study also shows that the increase in training for healthcare providers, new policies regarding prescribing, and the push to help patients “taper” off of their opioid medications instead of dropping them without warning is having positive effects .

In a nation where the opiate epidemic has taken control of thousands of lives, the increase in awareness and education is vital to the health of our society. Opiate overdoses surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of accidental death in the United States. The help and push to teach about the dangers of opioid medications is desperately needed, especially since the increase of opioid medications is over 600% over the past 20 years. In the state of Washington, opiate-related overdoses increased 17 times from 1995 to 2008.

The research goal was to implement a taper program for patients who had chronic pain and had been on opioid medications long-term. The research was conducted on 514 patients who all fit the criteria of chronic pain and long-term opioid medication use. One group of patients prescribed high doses of opioid medications had a success rate of 37% when proactive steps were taken to help the patients taper down to safer doses per day of opioid medications. In many of the cases in the 37% success class, dosages were reduced by half of their original dosage. The research did show one fall back in that women had less success than men when it came to tapering their opioid medication.

"The approach used in this study showed progress, but not enough," said Dr. Melissa Weimer, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. "We'd rather have a higher success rate. But in some cases we're dealing with a generation of patients who have been prescribed high-dose opioids for many years."

According to the researches, in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s there was a push to liberalize the prescribing practices of opioid medications to better treat pain for non-cancer patients particularly health issues as neuropathy or lower back problems. At that time, some experts even concluded that opioid medications were neither harmful nor addictive. These finding are obviously incorrect and have led to thousands of deaths. "This is now known to be an extremely serious problem," Weimer said. "We have a prescription opioid abuse epidemic in the U.S."

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