Medication-Assisted Therapies — Tackling the Opioid-Overdose Epidemic

May 5th, 2014

The rate of death from overdoses of prescription opioids in the United States more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 (see graphOpioid Sales, Admissions for Opioid-Abuse Treatment, and Deaths Due to Opioid Overdose in the United States, 1999–2010.), far exceeding the combined death toll from cocaine and heroin overdoses.1 In 2010 alone, prescription opioids were involved in 16,651 overdose deaths, whereas heroin was implicated in 3036. Some 82% of the deaths due to prescription opioids and 92% of those due to heroin were classified as unintentional, with the remainder being attributed predominantly to suicide or “undetermined intent.”

Rates of emergency department visits and substance-abuse treatment admissions related to prescription opioids have also increased markedly. In 2007, prescription-opioid abuse cost insurers an estimated $72.5 billion — a substantial increase over previous years.2 These health and economic costs are similar to those associated with other chronic diseases such as asthma and HIV infection.

These alarming trends led the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to deem prescription-opioid overdose deaths an epidemic and prompted multiple federal, state, and local actions.2 The HHS efforts aim to simultaneously reduce opioid abuse and safeguard legitimate and appropriate access to these medications. HHS agencies are implementing a coordinated, comprehensive effort addressing the key risks involved in prescription-drug abuse, particularly opioid-related overdoses and deaths. These efforts focus on four main objectives: providing prescribers with the knowledge to improve their prescribing decisions and the ability to identify patients’ problems related to opioid abuse, reducing inappropriate access to opioids, increasing access to effective overdose treatment, and providing substance-abuse treatment to persons addicted to opioids.

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Posted in SBIRT


A Project of the Governor's Institute on Alcohol & Substance Abuse and the North Carolina Society of Addiction Medicine.
Funded wholly or in part by the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Fund (CFDA #93.959) as a project of the NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities & Substance Abuse Services.