Plan Helps Doctors Check Painkiller Use Abuse Statistics Draw Attention

By Wang, Yanan | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), July 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Plan Helps Doctors Check Painkiller Use Abuse Statistics Draw Attention


Wang, Yanan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Small white pills, packaged in bright orange canisters and marked with inscrutable labels -- Oxycontin, Vicodin -- have long been considered the answer to physical pain.

Now, as the fight against painkiller abuse gains traction in Pennsylvania, state officials and medical agencies are coming together to curb the region's high rates of drug overdose and addiction through a series of voluntary prescribing guidelines for physicians. In collaboration with 70 organizations, Gov. Tom Corbett's office released the first of these documents last week, outlining recommendations for prescribing opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain.

"We want to move away from the attitude of 'Let's just prescribe you Vicodin and consider our job done,' ?" said Gary Tennis, the state secretary of drug and alcohol programs, who is co-chairman of the task force behind the guidelines. "Pain management is a multimodal operation."

Commonly known as narcotics, opioid medications are used to soothe pain stemming from conditions such as back injuries, broken limbs or arthritis. A study the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released July 4 found that Pennsylvania ranked above the national average prescribing rate for all painkiller types measured, with 88.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 individuals.

Patients who build tolerance for these prescription drugs are vulnerable to addiction to more dangerous substances such as heroin. Pennsylvania rose to seventh place in the nation in drug-related deaths this year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Carrie DeLone, Pennsylvania's physician general and another task force leader, emphasized that the guidelines' goal is not to decrease treatment for those in need but rather to "ensure that we're treating them in as safe a method as possible."

She said the recommendations will empower doctors to broach otherwise sensitive subjects with their patients, such as whether a patient has a history of drug abuse.

"As a physician, sometimes you get a feeling that the drugs are being misused, because patients will tell you they lost the medication or they washed it in a laundry machine," Ms. …

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