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Don’t let your tools to curb the opioid epidemic go to waste


New public opinion survey about opioid use from Prime Therapeutics has surprising results.

Many of the current tools aimed at combatting the opioid crisis may be underused, according to a new survey.

Prime Therapeutics (Prime) conducted an online survey in August of 1,014 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older drawn randomly from a large national consumer panel.

Opioid education, guidance is lacking

Most survey respondents believe that opioid addiction is a serious problem (87%, compared to 90% for illegal drugs and 49% for cigarettes and 48% for alcohol). Fifty percent are concerned about becoming addicted to opioids themselves if they should receive a prescription, and 28% are very concerned. To improve safety, 72% say medical professionals should offer alternative, non-opioid pain treatments. 

Other findings include:

• 44% of respondents see physicians and prescribers as best equipped to help solve the opioid crisis, while only 9% believe the government can solve the issue.

• 62% of those who say it is up to patients to solve the opioid crisis say this is because of personal responsibility, specifically self-control. 

• 51% report having taken opioids. Of those, 68% report discussing how to take the medication with a medical professional, 51% report discussing potential side effects, 25% report discussing the potential for addiction, and even fewer report discussing what to do in case of emergency (11%).

Safe disposal is critical knowledge gap

Regarding safe disposal, respondents taking opioids report they may not know how to safely dispose of unused medications.

The survey found:

• 17% had spoken with a medical professional about how to safely dispose of unused medicine.

• 59% dispose of old medicine in some way, but 23% do not.

• 24% of those who dispose of their medication throw it in the garbage and 21% keep the medication in case they need it again.

• 15% dispose of the old medication by flushing it down the toilet and 2% give it to a friend or relative.

• 27% have used a take program to dispose of old medicine. 

Getting ahead of the problem


“Clearly, opioid deaths have reached crisis levels in this country,” says Jonathan Gavras, MD, chief medical officer for Prime. “And while illicit use of street drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, and other more powerful drugs is significantly contributing to today’s epidemic, we still need to be diligent on measures to promote safe prescription drug use. That means we all should work to do even more-the healthcare community, the government, first responders, and others. This crisis needs an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach.”

Offering providers the right tools and supporting patient education is key, according to Gavras. “That includes having conversations about safety and safe disposal with patients, and intervening with those identified to be high-risk users,” he says.

One piece of Prime’s Controlled Substance Management Program allows the PBM to support prescribers by monitoring for unsafe use and alerting prescribers early to patients who may be receiving opioids from multiple prescribers or multiple pharmacies that the physician may not know about. 

Prime also recently joined forces with Walgreens, and several other health organizations, to expand access to safe medication disposal kiosks in Walgreens stores. The campaign, will add 900 disposal kiosks to 600 kiosks already located in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

“We hope to collect 300 tons of unwanted medication over the next two years,” Gavras says. “Making these widely available and easy for people to clean out their medicine cabinets will help.” 

Next year Prime will launch a predictive model that will help identify members early in their controlled substance use who have similar characteristics to those that currently misuse controlled substances.

“This will allow us to alert prescribers even sooner, and we hope to intervene before misuse even occurs to provide patients with the appropriate and safe means to address their pain,” Gavras says.

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