Tox Tuesday: The latest in the fight against opioids

November 07, 2017

An increase in the abuse of opioids — which includes prescription painkillers as well as illegal drugs like heroin — is an issue in many parts of the world. Although the problem is most pronounced in the U.S., the United Kingdom is also seeing increased opioid statistics. Here’s the latest news on the crisis.

Public health emergency in the U.S.

In the U.S., an estimated 91 people die daily due to opioid overdoses. In response to this, the country’s government has declared a public health emergency, a renewable designation that lasts for 90 days at a time. The declaration allows resources from the nation’s Public Health Emergency Fund to be used to combat opioid addiction nationwide.

The administration has also noted specific goals: expanding access to long-distance telemedicine services so that doctors can treat patients in rural areas, expediting the hiring of opioid-focused medical professionals, and allowing funds from programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.

Other initiatives, such as requirements for opioid prescribers to undergo extra training, funding for job training for people recovering from addiction, and a stronger block on fentanyl entering the country, are reportedly underway.

Earlier this year the government formed the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Last week, the commission published a full report in which it recommended further steps.

41 U.S. states investigating pharmaceutical companies

Opioid addictions have in many cases arisen from perfectly legal drug prescriptions. Patients prescribed strong painkillers can become addicted, often turning to heroin or other cheaper and more easiliy accessible opioids.

Now, 41 U.S. states are banding together to launch an investigation of opioid makers and distributors. Subpoenas seeking information from several large companies have been issued.

"Our subpoenas and letters seek to uncover whether or not there was deception involved — if manufacturers misled doctors and patients about the efficacy and addictive power of these drugs," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said during a press conference.

Latest overdose numbers released in United Kingdom

The National Health Service (NHS) recently published a report showing that opioid prescriptions in the United Kingdom have doubled over the past decade. Around 12 million prescriptions were given in 2006, while the same figure for 2016 was 24 million (the population of the United Kingdome is approximately 66 million).

With these higher numbers, experts want to stress that doctors should only prescribe opioids when necessary, in order to prevent as many patients as possible from developing addictions.

“Our greater understanding of these medications can improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of patients…,” said Barry Miller of The Faculty of Pain Medicine and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. “However, all NHS staff prescribing these medications need to ensure they are not doing more harm than good.”

Category: Toxicology