Though drug addiction has been a constant problem, the United States has recently faced an epidemic of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse. Opioid overdoses totaled over 28,600 in 2014, 19,000 of which were due to prescription opioid painkillers; the rest were due to heroin use. Many individuals become addicted to the opioids they have been prescribed, and once that prescription runs out, heroin becomes a cheap, accessible, and dangerous alternative. In the face of this epidemic, pharmacists have started to receive more thorough training about opioid prescriptions.
Training Program Addressing Two Major Opioid Epidemic Issues
Federal regulations concerning prescription painkillers have been tailored to address two major issues in the fight against this epidemic, which now claims more lives each year than motor vehicle accidents, according to www.WhiteHouse.gov.
First, prescriber training for healthcare professionals aims to provide more robust education for the doctors who prescribe opioids to patients as painkillers. The second tenet of these actions is to improve public access to opioid addiction options.
The White House announced the National Drug Control strategy in 2010 in an attempt to address the opioid epidemic in the United States. The strategy aims to provide more accessible and safer treatment options for addicts, improve prescribing practices, and reduce the number of deaths by opioid overdose. Naloxone, which acts as an antidote for opioid overdose, is being made more accessible for anyone who may be at risk for an opioid overdose, either by heroin or prescription painkillers.
Thorough Training For Prescribers
While naloxone availability aims to reduce the number of deaths that result from overdoses, new training programs strive to reduce the number of overdoses with more thorough education about prescription opioids. Any healthcare professional who prescribes opioids must maintain registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the FDA is pushing for this new opioid training to be a requirement for DEA registration renewal.
Naloxone Availability Changes
One of the major changes is new procedures for prescribing and dispensing naloxone. Pharmacies would be able to dispense this drug to individuals who are at high risk for opioid abuse without a prescription. Prescription opioids are abused by more than 1.9 million Americans and lead to a death rate of two per hour, either the results of overdoses or respiratory depression, when users lose control over their respiratory faculties and are incapacitated to the point that they essentially suffocate.
75% of those addicts end up resorting to heroin as an alternative when they cannot refill their prescriptions any longer. Making naloxone more easily accessible and widely available aims to curtail these figures.
Previously, naloxone was only available through a prescription, or obtainable from police stations and hospitals. Many addicts wouldn’t attempt to obtain naloxone for fear of legal repercussions for using illegal drugs, so this system prevented individuals from obtaining the treatment they needed to manage overdose symptoms. Now, pharmacies are making naloxone easily available for anyone who needs it, with or without a prescription.
The heroin epidemic continues, and the number of heroin-related deaths doubled between 2011 and 2013. These new training measures for prescribers and pharmacists aim to reduce the number of casualties from opioids, but this public health crisis is far from over.