Campaign seeks to educate doctors about when to prescribe opioids



The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids worked with Razorfish Health to launch Search and Rescue, a campaign that seeks to educate physicians lacking information about when it's okay to prescribe opioids at a time when addiction rates are rising. The FDA provided grant funding to the campaign.

“Many physicians get no education in medical school on medicine in pain management,” said Sean Clarkin, EVP, research and external relations, for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “We want to drive home that this is likely to be a problem in your own practice and there are tools available to you to be an activist by doing a better job with your patients.”

The campaign's website, searchandrescueusa.org, connects prescribers with the prescription drug monitoring programs in the states where they practice, as well as to continuing medical education courses and information about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines on prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The campaign launched September 15.

While Clarkin said that providing more information to prescribers is paramount, all stakeholders — including physicians, parents, and caregivers — have to become educated about the risks of addition in order to help quell this epidemic. “Our medicine abuse project is multi-pronged,” he said. “This is one piece, but it will take a village to address this. Prescribers are just one important part.”

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Some physicians may be increasingly looking to take the opioid epidemic into their own hands. Recent research suggests there is a growing focus among healthcare providers to make more informed decisions when it comes to prescribing opioids.

A survey of 1,500 physicians in April found that 64% believe they have a responsibility to curb the epidemic. The poll was conducted among the Aptus Health and QuantiaMD physician community.

Doctors may struggle with that charge, though, as misinformation among prescribers is pervasive, according to research from 2015. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that nearly half of internists, general physicians, family physicians, and general practitioners surveyed incorrectly thought that abuse-deterrent pills were actually less addictive than their standard counterparts.

Drugmakers began to bring abuse-deterrent version of opioids to market in 2013, starting with a crush-and-extraction resistant form of Purdue Pharma's Oxycontin. As of March, there are eight opioids with abuse-deterrent properties on the market. They were developed by Indivior, Purdue Pharma, Pernix Therapeutics, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Egalet, and Endo International. Pain pills with abuse-deterrent formulations are typically designed to be more difficult to crush.

See also: Purdue debuts opioid-abuse resource

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of advocacy organization, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, argues against abuse-deterrent opioids as a means to address addiction. He said the opposite is true: that abuse-deterrent pills do little to stymie addiction. His reasoning is that there is no way to stop people from taking too many drugs when prescribed orally — and that deterring snorting or injecting opioids is not enough to prevent addiction.  

“Abuse-deterrent opioids are mainly a gimmick,” Kolodny said. “The active ingredient in a hard-to-crush pill is the same ingredient in an easy-to-crush pill. Almost every patient I've treated has developed their addiction taking pills orally.”

That's one piece of information that may not be clear to doctors. One-third of the physicians surveyed by Aptus Health and QuantiaMD said they believe that most prescription drug abuse is carried out by means other than swallowing.

Kolodny said a clear way to rein in addiction is to instead limit the marketing of prescription opioids to patients undergoing palliative care, adding that high-dose opioids should also be pulled off the market. “The role for opioids should be intermittent use,” he said.