PA, ME groups formed to tackle opioid addiction crisis

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Pittsburgh, PA, United States (4E) – Governor Tom Corbett has convened a group of local and state officials on health, law enforcement, legislation and justice to brainstorm on ways to address the state’s worsening opioid addiction and overdose problem.

Corbett designated Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Gary Tennis to lead the group, which will also hold panel discussions across the state to hear from communities affected by addiction and overdose of the substance found in prescription drugs and heroin. An estimated 3,000 heroin overdose deaths were recorded in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2013.

“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen too many lives ruined because of addiction…This is a problem that cuts across geographic, social and economic boundaries. It affects families from rural areas, to suburban areas, to our cities. And it is doing so at an increasingly alarming rate,” he said in a statement issued on Friday.

“Working together, I believe we can better address this problem, but it will take engagement and coordination on all levels – from the state, to the legislature, to our local communities, to activities we take inside our own homes.”

A similar effort is being initiated in Maine, where a group launched a pilot program to educate primary care doctors or caregivers about how they can better help patients manage chronic pain with the goal of stopping abuse of prescription drug, particularly opioid painkillers.

Regional healthcare provider Maine Quality Counts partnered with the Maine Primary Care Association, the Maine Medical Association and Penobscot Community Health Center to launch the Maine Chronic Pain Collaborative (MCPC) on May 1. The MCPC was launched as the number of state residents seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse doubled between 2004 and 2013. Long-term painkiller patients face the risk of dependence, addiction, accidental overdose and premature death.

Under the program, health professionals will discuss alternatives to painkillers, including antidepressants, anticonvulsants, chiropractic, massage, weight loss and physical therapy. They will also look into ways on how to intervene if they see a colleague misprescribing painkillers.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 52 million people in the US have used opioids non-medically at least once in their lifetime. Corbett also cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicating that drug overdose has surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading of injury-related deaths in the country.

A study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found that despite a number of reforms, over-prescribing and long-term use of opioids or prescription drugs are still prevalent.

Looking into 264,000 workers’ compensation claims and 1.5 million prescriptions from the claims in 25 states, the study showed that over time, there was minimal reduction in the prevalence of long-term opioid use, according to Human Resource Executive Online (HREOnline).

While there was a substantial increase in drug testing of long-term opioid users, the percentage of claims involving prescription drugs changed little, within two percentage points only. The team also discovered that in some states, drug testing and psychological evaluations of long-term users was quite low.

Of the 25 states surveyed, Louisiana topped the list where longer-term opioid use was most prevalent. Statistics show that one out of six injured workers were using prescription drugs for the long-term. Other states that ranked high were New York and Pennsylvania.

Based on the claims, states with the lowest number of long-term prescription drug users, or those with fewer than one in 20, were Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

WCRI executive director Richard Victor said in a statement, “The issue this study addresses is very serious, which is how often doctors followed recommended treatment guidelines for monitoring injured workers who are longer-term users of opioids.”

HREOnline pointed out that painkillers have become a major cause for concern in the workers’ compensation industry, especially when employees become addicted to the drugs, causing additional problems in health care.

“There’s a growing concern that doctors may be over-prescribing opioids while failing to properly address the root causes of the pain and discomfort WC patients are suffering from,” the article said.

As state officials intensify their campaign against abuse of prescription drugs and drug trafficking, health practitioners have their own drive for increased access to drug addiction medication. In a commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month, National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow said medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone “improve lives and reduce the risk of overdose” but are markedly underutilized.

The said drugs have undergone innovations or made available in new forms to encourage more patients to use them. Naltrexone, for example, is now being offered in implant form by addiction rehab firm BioCorRx Inc. (OTC: BICX). Naltrexone is able to bind to and block brain signals that react to opioids curbing cravings for prescription drugs, heroin and alcohol.

The implant is part of BioCorRx’s Start Fresh Program, which combines medication and counseling to treat alcohol and drug addiction. The implant last for several months giving patients enough time to complete the program’s 15 life coaching sessions. It is also a convenient alternative to naltrexone in pill or injection form by keeping the patient compliant with daily or monthly dosage. The opioid antagonist is delivered to the patient’s body in pellet form by the implant inserted in the lower abdomen.

The series of life coaching sessions are integral component of the BioCOrRx’s Start Fresh Program. The sessions allow the patient to plan for his future without dependence on drugs. Such programs are promising in curbing opioid abuse for the long-term and could help bring down medical cost to the benefit of families, the government and insurance companies.

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