By Dr. Batami Sadan, Co-Founder and Board Member, Vaica Medical, chair of the Israeli Association for Medical Informatics
Just recently a public bomb was dropped in the United States: For the first time since the beginning of the 1960s, there has been a two-year decline in American life expectancy, while the entire western world has been living for more years. The reason for the decline in life expectancy is not found in elderly people who live less than in the past, but because of the death of young people in their 20s to 50s, deaths that are avoidable, but nonetheless, lower the average overall life expectancy.
One of the main causes of these deaths is what has long been referred to in the United States as the “epidemic” – the steep rise in the use of powerful painkillers called opioids. Since the late 1990s, more than 200,000 Americans have died as a result of an overuse.
A 2011 study published in JAMA revealed that individuals regularly taking larger doses of opioids are at a more increased risk of unintentional death than those on lower doses.
One reason for the abuse according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is that “Opioid medications can produce a sense of well-being and pleasure because these drugs affect brain regions involved in reward.”
There is also population ignorance or what we call health illiteracy. Patients are not aware of the price they are paying for over using the opioids.
What can be done to reduce opioid abuse?
First, we need to acknowledge that taking opioid drugs is effective if taken for short periods of time and as prescribed. The big question: how to restrain usage to the right patients with the right dosage for the right period of time?
I believe that extensive physician and patient education regarding narcotics and their associated risks for abuse can raise patient understanding and awareness and will help to change patient behavior.
In addition, technology could be put to use with the goal of reducing opioid addiction. For example:
- Initiate a prescription monitoring program to detect inappropriate prescribing or inappropriate dispensing
- Work with pharmacies which dispense opioids in a locked medication dispenser with GSM connectivity that monitors the time and the dosage taken, and which alerts family members or care givers when there is abuse.
What do you think?