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Editorial: Work with doctors to reduce opioid prescriptions

From the Logan Banner:

With all the overdoses and news coverage of the opioid epidemic, the number of pain pill prescriptions has declined somewhat.

But doctors are still prescribing the potentially addictive drugs at a rate 56 percent higher than 20 years ago, The Associated Press reported last week. The prescription rate is still high enough to provide every adult in the country with a bottle of pills.

That is really shocking, since the connection between the high volume of prescriptions and the high rates of addiction and overdoses was solidly established several years ago.

Why are doctors still handing out these drugs at such a high rate?

A new program in Pennsylvania is working to find out and offer alternatives that can bring down the volume of pills flowing into our homes and communities. Funded by the state lottery, medical professionals are visiting doctors across the state and advocating for a new approach to pain treatment and opioid use.

“Most people trust their doctors,” said Cheryl Bartlett of Alosa Health, the non-profit operating the program. “But we haven’t trained doctors about addiction, how to recognize it early and treat it in their practices. Why not help doctors better understand how to care for their patients?”

Interestingly, doctors interviewed for the AP story admitted they needed help and alternatives.

“The problem with treating pain is there are not a lot of options,” said Dr. Richard Rosenthal said. “Tylenol can affect the liver. Anti-inflammatories can affect the heart, the liver, the kidneys. You’re not supposed to use muscle relaxants” with elderly patients.

Doctors also stressed that many patients want the pills for quick relief and resist safer alternatives. Plus, some physicians say 20-minute office visits do not always provide enough time to detect signs of addiction or deeper problems.

The Pennsylvania program is meeting with 2,600 doctors a year and providing them with answers and strategies for those difficult situations. That is a model that other hard-hit states such as West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky should be following as well.

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