A key focus of this year’s California legislative session is the nation’s opioid crisis, and rightly so.
According to the California Healthcare Foundation, an estimated 2,000 Californians died of an opioid overdose in 2016. The opioid epidemic confronting California and the rest of America is a growing public health crisis from which no state is immune. Its impact is felt by families across the country, in small towns and large cities; it is equally devastating to communities on the coasts as it is in the heartland. It does not affect one demographic or constituency, but touches the lives and loved ones of Americans young and old, rich and poor. We must all work together on a comprehensive approach to combating this crisis and we stand ready to do so.
Those on the front lines of this crisis know that simply cutting off the supply of prescription opioids isn’t a panacea.
A comprehensive solution is one that prevents and deters abuse while balancing legitimate patient access for those who genuinely need it. Anyone who has undergone or seen a loved one undergo difficult cancer treatments, or reach the devastating point where treatments no longer work, knows the importance and value of appropriately treating pain.
We must also ensure that these medicines are being appropriately prescribed. Too often, patients receive a 30-day supply of opioid medicines for minor treatments or short-term pain. Overprescribing and dispensing can lead to individuals taking opioids for longer than necessary or to excess pills falling into the wrong hands. Clinically appropriate limits on opioid prescriptions and prescription drug monitoring programs that cut down on doctor shopping can help stop addiction before it happens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most individuals who misuse or abuse prescription pain medicines first receive them from a family member or friend – as opposed to having a specific prescription for a medical condition. Furthering public education and increasing awareness about the appropriate use of medicines, including the importance of not sharing medicines, risk factors for abuse and steps to prevent an overdose are areas where lawmakers can get engaged.
And for the prescribers, who are often on the front lines in preventing misuse and abuse, we support ongoing mandatory training. They must be able to counsel patients about available treatment options for pain, including non-opioid and other alternatives, the potential risks associated with opioids, how to appropriately use medicines and how and when to stop taking them, and how to recognize and address potential signs of abuse and addiction.
Those on the front lines of this crisis know that simply cutting off the supply of prescription opioids isn’t a panacea. Patients who are addicted need a clear treatment plan when stopping opioids; otherwise, odds are they will move on to an illegal substitute such as heroin or counterfeit fentanyl. For those seeking to break the cycle of addiction, treatment must be readily accessible, on par with access to any other medical condition, without discrimination or delay.
All of us, along with elected officials, prescribers, educators, employers, law enforcement and community leaders, have an obligation to prevent abuse and ensure that those with addiction are identified and referred to treatment and receive the support they need. Lawmakers see firsthand the interplay between medical and law enforcement challenges. Fentanyl, a pain medication exponentially more powerful than morphine, is used for advanced cancer or hospice patients. However, illegally-produced, counterfeit fentanyl, which is cheaper and deadlier than heroin, is being used as filler for other drugs – often without the user’s knowledge. It is frequently imported, often disguised as a legitimate prescription medicine and is increasingly worsening an already dire situation. Law enforcement must have the resources necessary to stop this flow of illicit and illegal drugs.
Ending the opioid crisis is a common cause that transcends political party or ideology. No single intervention or policy is enough to end this epidemic on its own. Rather we need a comprehensive strategy and a unified public response that involves government, non-profits, and the private sector working together to address the problem. We must help those currently suffering from addiction and develop ways to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.
We are committed to working with California’s lawmakers and all community and health care stakeholders to implement common sense solutions that will end this deadly scourge and protect the nation’s health.
Ed’s Note: Kipp Snider is the vice president, state government advocacy, at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)