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Opioid Epidemic Update: Doctors Prescribing Less Painkillers

A close-up shot of a doctor writing a prescription
A San Diego doctor may have found a way to make doctors think twice before prescribing painkillers.

Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Given everything we now know, that’s an astonishing statistic. We know that many people become addicts after trying opioid painkillers and then getting hooked on them. We know that, once that happens, many of those people will begin using heroin, which is cheaper. And we know that heroin can be even more deadly now that it’s so often laced with fentanyl.

The solution, at least in part, seems obvious: Doctors should be more cautious when prescribing opioid painkillers.

But that hasn’t really happened. The amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 remained three times higher than the amount prescribed in 1999, according to a report by the CDC.

That reality got San Diego emergency room physician Roneet Lev thinking. If doctors were notified when their patients died of an overdose, would it cause them to change the way they prescribe opioids?

But Lev didn’t just think; she co-authored a study. The study evaluated the effect of sending letters to physicians informing them of the overdose deaths of their patients. Half of a group of 861 doctors received such a letter. The other half did not.

The doctors who received letters reduced the rate at which they prescribed opioid painkillers between 6 and 13 percent, compared to those who did not get letters.

The Effects of Doctors Prescribing Less Painkillers

Some have questioned if there might be unintended consequences if doctors start prescribing less painkillers. Specifically, will people who are already addicted simply switch to illicit street drugs like heroin?

The authors of the study don’t think so. Their study showed that doctors did not abruptly cut off prescriptions for existing patients. Rather, they began to limit the number of new patients they introduced to opioids.

There are two ways out of the opioid crisis. The first is to drastically reduce the number of new people becoming addicted to painkillers. The second is to provide a way out for the millions of people who are already suffering from opioid addiction.

Opioid Addiction Help and The Raleigh House

At The Raleigh House, we take a whole-person approach to recovery. That means we don’t just get the heroin or painkillers out of your system. The real work is helping you recover psychologically, mentally, spiritually and socially.

We also evaluate—and treat—residents for any co-occurring conditions that may exist, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the prescription painkillers or heroin treatment program at The Raleigh House.

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