NJ

Battling Addiction With an Opioid Abuse-Deterrent Solution | Opinion

By Peter Staats

Chronic pain now impacts more Americans than cancer and heart disease combined. Yet there have been unintended consequences of trying to effectively treat the pain.

Annually, there are more than 18,000 deaths attributed to prescription drug use in the United States alone.

Physicians are recognizing the problems of prescription opioid abuse, and have adjusted their administration and distribution of these painkillers accordingly. Unfortunately, non-prescription opioid abuse is now also on the rise.

What if researchers could develop a pill that has additional safeguards to prevent prescription pain medication abuse, while also recognizing the need to help those suffering from chronic pain? I believe they are one step closer, in the form of abuse-deterrent opioid pills, or ADOs.

A recent report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the rate of heroin overdose deaths has nearly tripled since 2010.

In New Jersey, heroin overdoses are more than triple the rate reported by the CDC and now eclipse homicide, suicide, car accidents and AIDS as a cause of death in the state.

Last year, the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse reported the use of heroin and other opiates has become the number one health crisis confronting New Jersey.

In order to effectively manage pain and minimize the risk of abuse and diversion, a comprehensive strategy is necessary. Doctors can no longer “just say no” to prescribing opiates to patients suffering with severe uncontrolled pain.

ADOs are one new aspect of this comprehensive approach to solving the complicated prescription drug abuse problem.

The number of people with addiction disorders is rising, and many heroin users began by abusing prescription opioids that are often prescribed directly to them or another family member in the home. People with addictions will pose as patients to get medications from their doctors, friends or even steal them from family members.

Law enforcement, first responders, doctors, pharmacists and advocacy groups continue their important work to slow the rising number of needless deaths from heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses.

New Jersey paramedics, for instance, currently carry a drug named Narcan to treat and potentially save the lives of suspected opioid overdose victims by reversing the respiratory depression effects (if they are caught in time).

However, Narcan only helps reverse the lethal effects of an opiate. It does not keep addicts from crushing their pills, injecting prescription drugs or selling their medications.

The FDA has taken action to help stem abuse of opioid pain medication around the country by calling on drug makers to use ADOs when manufacturing opioid painkillers.

For those suffering from chronic and debilitating pain, the FDA still considers prescription opioids an important component of modern pain management.

ADOs preserve the beneficial pain relief element of the medication but deter misuse and abuse by making the medication extremely difficult to crush, snort or inject.

Certainly not all people should be on an opioid for chronic pain, but when an opioid is indicated, doctors should have the ability to prescribe the drug that is the safest for patients and their community.

Many of my peers believe ADOs could be one part of a solution in New Jersey that addresses misuse and abuse from prevention to treatment.

Our lawmakers are beginning to listen.

The general assembly has passed A4271, which requires health benefit coverage for ADOs. The bill has since been introduced in the state senate as S3036, where a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee is still pending.

ADOs have already received national support from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, members of Congress, the National Association of Attorneys General and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, the United States Pain Foundation, the New Jersey Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and the Alliance for Patient Access have lobbied in support of the New Jersey legislation, which would simply provide patients greater access to opioids with new technologies the FDA has already determined can help reduce abuse.

Yes, ADOs are just one important component of combating abuse, but they are invaluable for those legitimately suffering from chronic pain and may minimize the risk of people becoming addicted to opioids in the first place.

Pharmacists could also breathe a little easier if the No. 1 item criminals target won’t be able to produce the high they’re seeking.

Let’s not wait for others to take the lead on an epidemic destroying lives across the country.

I urge the senate to make passing S-3036 this year a top priority, following the assembly’s lead to provide wide access to another weapon in our ongoing fight to curb opioid addiction in New Jersey.

Peter Staats, M.D., of Shrewsbury, is the past president of the New Jersey Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

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