The opioid epidemic continues to ravage this country and cause deaths in every state. Though still at risk for continuing deaths, Oregon’s death rate seems to be falling in the face of the crisis. This is due to doctors changing how they prescribe opioids so that it doesn’t lead to dependency and addiction.

Newer doctors may not be able to immediately notice drug-seeking behavior when patients arrive in their waiting room or at the hospital. Opioids are indicated to work for short-term pain like recovery from a surgery or when someone breaks a leg. They become ineffective for treating long-term pain that lingers, however. As a result, prescribers have begun to change the way that they prescribe opioids.

A large number of prescribers are garnering feedback from the clinics that change prescribing policies to help monitor opioid usage better. This creates a database where doctors are able to see if a patient has been shopping for opioid at other clinics. It can also offer insight for doctors to see how many opioids they’re prescribing compared to other doctors in the area.

Steps like these, combined with continued pain management education and disposal of unused pharmaceuticals, have all been credited with reducing the opioid prescription rate by nearly 20 percent over the last few years.

In the early 1990s, drug manufacturers told doctors that opioids were not habit-forming. Due to this erroneous claim, doctors didn’t fully realize the destructive nature and addiction potential of opioids and were quite relaxed when prescribing them. To add another layer to this issue the Joint Commission, which is the organization responsible for accrediting hospitals and clinics, brought forth the idea that pain could be considered the fifth vital sign included with things like temperature and heart rate.

As such, doctors believed that they should bring their patient’s pain level back to normal as with any vital sign. Prescribing rates continued to climb so high that patients would be given a month’s supply of pain medications after even the most minor of procedures.

To fight the climbing prescription rate, the American Medical Association dropped pain as a vital sign and doctors have begun to teach patients to cope with pain through alternative treatments like sleep, physical therapy, and even acupuncture. Doctors are finding that these treatments are becoming more and more effective because patients are willing to put in the effort to make the change needed to stop relying on opioids.