In 2015 alone, over 42,000 people died due to opioid overdoses, a 500 percent increase from opioid-related deaths in 1999. The opioid epidemic is a national health crisis throughout the United States, but one that is curable with treatment and prevention. While an often overlooked aspect, prevention is crucial for solving the epidemic and something physicians play a direct role in.


The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends six things that physicians can do to help end the opioid epidemic: use prescription drug monitoring programs, enhance education and training, support comprehensive treatment for pain and substance use disorders, help end stigma, co-prescribe naloxone to patients at risk of overdose and encourage safe storage and disposal of opioids and all medications. Out of these six recommendations, three can be enacted by physicians to help prevent addiction.


Prescription drug monitoring program

As part of the AMA’s opioid task force, they’ve worked to make a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMPs) available in every state. PDMPs are systems used to help inform physician’s clinical decisions. The program collects information on all filled prescriptions for controlled substances. The system allows physicians to monitor how much any patient has been prescribed of a substance and helps physicians keep track of any patients that are frequently seeking prescriptions.


Enhance education and training

Know the alternatives to opioid prescription. Take one of the CME courses offered by the AMA specifically focused on opioids. Physicians should only be prescribing what a patient absolutely needs to deal with their level of pain, and not be adding cushion into prescriptions. Consider non-opioid alternatives when possible.


Safe storage and disposal

Encouraging patients to use proper storage and disposal methods for opioid prescriptions will reduce the chance someone else in their household is able to obtain and use them. More than 70 percent of people who are misusing opioid analgesics are getting them through their family and friends. Remind patients that prescription sharing is illegal and if they feel a family member may abuse their prescription, that it should be kept in a safe and secure place.


Also, educate patients about what programs exist for them to dispose of their unused prescriptions. Some communities have take-back programs or a drop box at their local police station. Know of what resources exist and make sure your patients do too. Encourage them to follow through and dispose of their medication.