The American Medical Association claims the opioid epidemic is letting up. Could this be the end of America's most pressing health crisis?
The Beginning of the End?
Opioid prescriptions have reportedly decreased 33 percent between 2013 and 2018. That includes a 12.4 percent decrease from 2017 and 2018. So says the AMA anyway. And the AMA should know. The AMA Opioid Task Force is actively engaged in helping to end the epidemic. Heck, they've even got a website devoted to the task.
"The opioid epidemic is at a crossroads," said AMA President-elect Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A.. And we believe the good doctor. Why? Because Harris chairs the AMA Opioid Task Force.
"While physicians must continue to demonstrate leadership by taking action," continues Dr. Harris, "it is clear that these significant reductions in opioid prescribing, increases in prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) use and taking more education -- by themselves -- will not stop people from dying."
Indeed. NIDA reports 2017 opioid overdose deaths topped 47,600. It also reports that over 17,000 of those deaths were directly attributed to prescription opioids. Who knows how many overdoses were indirectly attributed to prescription opioids.
Still, there are highly promising signs. The AMA reports that physicians and other health care providers used PDMPs more than 460 million times in 2018. That's an increase of 167 million from the previous year.
The AMA also reports that more physicians and health care providers are trained and involved in continuing education regarding opioid prescribing, pain management, opioid use and substance use disorder treatment. In addition, a growing number of physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are certified to treat opioid use disorder. In fact, that number topped 66,000 by 2018.
Then there's lifesaving naloxone (Narcan). The AMA says nearly 600,000 naloxone prescriptions were dispensed in 2018. That's a nearly threefold increase over 2016.
Could these numbers really add up to the beginning of the end of the opioid epidemic?
Ending the Opioid Epidemic
Despite the optimism, there's still cause for concern. Heroin and fentanyl deaths remain at historic levels. And far too many addicts continue to get their start from prescription pain medications.
To help end the opioid epidemic, once and for all, the AMA is calling on lawmakers and other policymakers to end barriers to addiction treatment. The AMA is also encouraging health insurance providers to get on board with non-opioid alternatives to treatment.
The AMA is also schooling its own members. In fact, the AMA Opioid Task Force recommends a comprehensive plan of action that covers everything from education and training to reducing the stigma and employing the aforementioned PDMPs.
The Opioid Task Force website says the AMA is determined to be part of the solution. That means they're not only intent on being on the forefront of this fight, but that they've also apparently taken a page or three from abstinence-based addiction treatment programs. And for the AMA to even hint at prescribing anything other than medications is a remarkable turn of events.
Such a sea change is also something of a miracle. One small step for the AMA. And one giant leap toward AA. After all, it's AA's own 12 Steps which so often spark the miracle of sobriety. And it's refreshing to think the AMA is finally catching up with AA.
It's also encouraging. Wholeheartedly encouraging. And we at Recovery Boot Camp are wholeheartedly encouraged by the AMA's progress, as well as their report.
Does a reduction in opioid prescribing mark an end to the opioid epidemic? Nope. Not even close. It is though proverbial step in the right direction. Now just imagine what would happen if every opioid addict could take 12 Steps in the right direction.