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In the 1990s, pain was designated as the “fifth vital sign,” and physicians were urged to reduce pain with opioids. Pharmaceutical companies were also heavily marketing opioids to physicians. Since 1999, opioid prescriptions in the United States have more than quadrupled--despite no increases in reported pain.

The drastic surge in the use of highly addictive prescription painkillers is devastating communities. In 2014, 28,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdose, and 2 million were misusing or dependent on opioids. In the midst of this opioid epidemic, health systems around the world are struggling to prevent opioid use disorder and overdose, as well as to manage the growing demand for treatment services.

Current efforts to prevent opioid-related health problems include training physicians on safe opioid prescribing and alternative pain treatments to reduce opioid exposure, educating patients on the dangers of opioid misuse, increasing the availability of naloxone, utilizing prescription drug monitoring programs to identify individuals at high risk for overdose, and introducing state prescription drug laws.

In addition, health professionals must learn how to best treat individuals struggling with opioid use disorder. Medication-assisted treatments, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, are highly effective for treating opioid use disorder, but there are a limited number of physicians trained to provide these services. Systems connecting patients to long-term treatment are improving; however, there is still significant stigma surrounding addiction, hindering progress. Substance use disorders must be approached as a chronic disease, not as a moral failing. The solutions to this complex epidemic will require collaboration across multiple stakeholders, including primary care providers, policymakers, and law enforcement.

During GHDonline’s week-long Expert Panel, our panelists will explore topics related to provider engagement in the prevention and treatment of opioid use disorder.

Our new Expert Panel format makes it easier to contribute to the wide variety of topics surrounding this issue. We look forward to hearing your thoughts across the discussion threads below!