More than 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2015 (up from about 47,000 the prior year). Among those fatalities, 63 percent were linked to opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports sharp increases in deaths across many states involving heroin and synthetic opioids (largely, illicitly manufactured fentanyl) in what the agency describes as an ongoing epidemic requiring “intense attention and action.”
At the same time, prescription opioids are being misused in nonmedical ways that carry their own dangers and raise significant risk for subsequent heroin use.
CDC calls for a multifaceted response including prevention programs as well as enhanced access to treatment and harm-reduction services, while law enforcement focuses on reducing illegal opioid supply lines.
Technology plays an integral role, too — for example, streamlining access to and use of prescription drug-monitoring programs and analyzing public health data to deepen knowledge of overdose demographics.
What the numbers say
Researchers at health IT firm athenahealth studied records of more than 2 million patient visits and 500,000 opioid prescriptions written each quarter from 2014 through 2016. The analysis revealed that primary care providers write 50 percent of opioid prescriptions — far and away the most by physician type. However, the share of primary care patients with an opioid prescription decreased from 10.6 percent at the beginning of 2014 to 9.1 percent at the end of 2016. The study also found the dosage strength of opioid prescriptions to be dropping, while the duration of prescriptions remained steady at about 23 days. According to the sample, patients over the age of 46 receive the largest share of opioid prescriptions.
A separate study conducted by the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assessed trends and factors contributing to multiple naloxone administrations (NMAs), which are used by first responders to treat overdose patients. (Naloxone helps restore patient breathing and prevents respiratory arrest.) Tracing the MNA data enables researchers to identify when and where high-potency opioids have been introduced into a community. The findings: Significantly higher-than-expected MNAs were reported in the West, Northeast, and Midwest Census regions. “Local-level public health officials have used EMS data to create hot-spot maps of opioid overdoses and those maps are shared with program officials managing opioid overdose prevention programs,” the report states.
Another key part of battling the scourge of opioid abuse is aligning recovering patients with proper medical treatment. NetDirector recently applied its integration services expertise in partnership with Addiction Care 101 (A101), which offers a platform for opioid users to anonymously go through treatment and recovery without notification of family members or employers.
NetDirector’s integration platform gives A101 the ability to accurately monitor patients’ compliance and ensure that they are not seeking drugs outside their treatment program. A101 drug counselors receive immediate alerts on out-of-compliance patients as indicated by lab testing partners within its network.
The behind-the-scenes technology integrates multiple network labs with practitioners and counselors. It supplies timely, actionable information while freeing caregivers from system-level concerns so they can concentrate on delivering needed care.