What physicians can do to stop the opioid overdose epidemic

With 44 people dying each day in the United States from an overdose of opioids, we physicians see people affected by this epidemic on a regular basis—whether it’s in our local newspapers or in our own offices.

From the inner city to the suburbs and rural regions, no community is untouched. But there are things we can do to amplify our current efforts.

That’s why the AMA has convened a task force with more than 20 state and specialty medical associations, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Dental Association to work collaboratively to address the opioid public health epidemic by identifying best practices and implementing them across the country. This epidemic is complex, and the remedy won’t be simple. It will require a sustained, comprehensive approach.

As a group, we have developed a strong roadmap that we hope will bring America’s physicians, other health care professionals and patients together as partners on the path to eliminating this public health epidemic.

Our initial focus is on steps we physicians can take now to help our patient populations:

  • Use state-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP). We should register for and consult these databases to identify patients at risk for opioid misuse and help patients with use disorders get appropriate treatment.
  • Discuss with patients available treatment options. When caring for patients with pain, we need to understand the best possible course for managing that pain with the tools available to us.
  • Take advantage of educational opportunities. Engaging in robust education activities that meet the needs of our specialties, practices and patient populations is key to delivering appropriate care for each patient. Visit the AMA’s Opioid Abuse Prevention Web pages to access resources to enhance your education, and promote comprehensive, appropriate pain treatment while safeguarding against opioid overdose. Resources also support treating patients with substance use disorders and expanding access to naloxone.

The AMA also is calling on states to make sure their PDMPs are truly valuable tools. These databases need to protect patient privacy, contain relevant and reliable data, allow care teams to seamlessly integrate that data into their work flows, and enable data sharing across state lines.

In the coming months, we’ll share additional recommendations and educational resources from the task force that can help you in your daily practice of medicine.

America’s patients who live with acute and chronic pain deserve compassionate, high-quality and personalized care. We are committed to equipping the physician community to achieve that goal so patients can live longer, fuller and more productive lives.