Opioid crisis: Physicians stepping up

Published 3:00 am Friday, July 21, 2017

The nation’s prescription opioid crisis is one of the worst problems facing society today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 91 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose, which is a conservative estimate.

This epidemic began in the mid-1980s with one study that concluded the use of opioids could be a safe treatment for patients experiencing severe pain.

Since then, we have struggled to help our patients who are addicted to their prescription medications. We began educating ourselves on the dangers associated with these medications while at the same time searching for equally therapeutic options with fewer dangerous side effects.

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The Medical Association of the State of Alabama in 2009 began offering an educational conference to physicians, physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners who prescribed opioids. The course is now offered three times annually with an ever-changing agenda to accommodate new data and research. Until 2013, Alabama was one of the only states offering this course when the FDA developed a blueprint for its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies for producers of controlled substances.

These opioid prescribing courses have now reached more than 5,000 participants and are still going strong.

But, we still have work to do. In 2013 the Medical Association helped pass legislation to reduce prescription drug abuse and diversion. Four years later, Alabama is beginning to see results. After being at or near the top for years in the prescribing of opioids, those numbers are slipping.

According to a recent study by IMS Health, the total number of retail-filled prescriptions of opioids between 2013 and 2016 has decreased nationally by 14.6 percent. In that time, however, Alabama’s average number of prescriptions has steadily declined by 17.3 percent, which is well above the national average.

The prescription opioid epidemic didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be solved that way. Taking prescriptions from patients who are dependent upon them, or those who legitimately need them, will do more harm than good. Most physicians agree the medical profession has been part of the problem, which is why we insist on being a leading voice in the solution.

Treatments are available for prescription medication addictions too, but the first step is an honest conversation with your physician.


Boyde “Jerry” Harrison, M.D.

President, Medical Association of the State of Alabama