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Inside the Rx Summit: Understanding the opioid crisis

Posted by Keenan Farrar on May 15, 2017 08:30 AM

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The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling it.

Since 2016, Brunet-García has been working with the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention on the promotion of the Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. This April, Senior Account Executive Anna Jaffee and Public Health Marketing Specialist Keenan Farrar attended the sixth annual National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn more about the multi-pronged approach to fighting this public health issue.

The Rx Summit is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state, and federal agencies, business, academia, treatment providers, and allied communities impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use. The event brings together decision makers and allied professionals working to address this public health emergency. The Summit began in 2012 under the leadership of Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education, Inc.) and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th).

The summit discussed the use of illicit drugs, and especially the rampant spread of fentanyl across the country that is causing overdoses and deaths. Heroin is cheaper than prescription medications, and fentanyl is even cheaper and hundreds of times more potent.

“We were aware of fentanyl, but we didn't realize how fast it is spreading, the extent of new variations of fentanyl, and how easily accessible it is on the internet,” Farrar said. “It’s being mixed into many other types of drugs resulting in many more overdose deaths.”

Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. People who become addicted to prescription drugs often face stigma and criticism. For people struggling with opioid addiction, it is important to provide treatment. Research on substance abuse, and addiction, has led to an increase of knowledge and to one clear conclusion: Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a chronic but treatable brain disease that requires medical intervention, not moral judgment.

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“I was pleased to hear many people discussing the shift to reduce stigma around addiction and treating opioid use disorder as a disease,” Farrar said.

CDC is working on tracking and sharing data and statistics to better respond to the problem. Overprescribing of opioid medication played a significant role in getting us to where we are today, and the prescribing guideline is key in reducing overdose deaths by improving how these drugs are prescribed. The fact sheets and other resources Brunet-García has created to help educate health care providers are used to bring awareness to the issue and prompt change. Brunet-García is passionate about producing consumer friendly materials, so the public can see how CDC is working to prevent the problem.

“Data collection, analysis, tracking, and sharing are so important to help target interventions at the local level and inform policies at the state and federal level,” Farrar said.

Attending the Rx Summit was helpful for seeing the various roles each agency plays when it comes to preventing prescription drug overdose. It also helps to see a more well-rounded picture of the epidemic and understand all of the touchpoints a patient might encounter. Our current work with CDC focuses more on the patient side and how patients can be more informed and active in prevention.

“This crisis is so complex that it needs to be tackled by multiple angles, agencies, and partners,” Farrar said. “I think there is still much work to be done to change the perception surrounding opioids.”

Law enforcement also provides critical information about where overdose rates are high, which can be combined with other data to determine what areas need the most support. The Rx Summit provided a better understanding of fentanyl, which will be useful as Brunet-García works to include more messaging about illicit drug overdose in future products. According to a statistic given by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, for every overdose death, there are approximately 100 individuals and families suffering with this devastating disease of opioid addiction.

“The summit helped us to get a bigger picture of all the key players working on this. We have mainly focused our work on informing and training health care providers, and that is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Farrar. “It's such a complex problem and it was inspiring to see so many dedicated agencies, organizations, and individuals all coming together to fight this epidemic from all angles,” Jaffee said.

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View more of our work on prescription drug overdose here.