Opioid addiction is a growing problem in the United States and especially in Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there has been a 220 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 1999 to 2012, and in 2012, prescription opioids passed alcohol for the first time as the primary substance of abuse. This problem is an epidemic, and the only way to reduce its tragic effects is to work together as a community of doctors, insurance providers and patients to prevent medicine misuse.
To help doctors combat this issue, the CDC released new guidelines in 2016 aimed to prevent opioid misuse. The guidelines are outlined in three parts.
- Use nonpharmacologic therapies such as exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapies such as anti-inflammatories for chronic pain.
- Prescribe the lowest possible effective dosage and start with immediate-release opioids instead of extended-release opioids. Provide only the quantity needed for the expected duration of the pain.
- Regularly monitor patients to make sure opioids are improving pain and function without causing harm. This could also mean explaining to patients that it is not realistic for them to live their lives entirely free of pain.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is also working to help communities in the state tackle this epidemic through changes in policy. Since July 1, 2016, certain patients now need prior authorization for any new prescription of long-acting opioid medications. This new policy encourages the therapeutic treatment of chronic pain and aims to reduce the misuse of opioids. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation awarded a $1.2 million grant to Count It! Lock It! Drop It! to help take the program to cities identified by the Department of Health as “hot spots” for prescription pain medication abuse.
Finally, patients can also help curb the misuse of opioids by taking the pledge to (link to pledge page)
- Count It!: Know the number of pills you have in your possession at all times.
- Lock It!: Lock your medication in a secure place where only you have access.
- Drop It!: If you have pills left over after treatment, safely dispose of them at a drop box in your area.
Christina Merino is the executive director of the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition and a co-founder of Count It! Drop It! Lock It!™ .