Current Issue - July/August - Vol 21 Issue 4


  1. 2018;21;309-326Reframing the Prevention Strategies of the Opioid Crisis: Focusing on Prescription Opioids, Fentanyl, and Heroin Epidemic
    Health Policy Review
    Alan D. Kaye, MD, PhD, Sairam Atluri, MD, Jaya Sanapati, MD, Ramsin M. Benyamin, MD, Joshua A. Hirsch, MD, and Laxmaiah Manchikanti, MD.

The opioid epidemic has been called the “most consequential preventable public health problem in the United States.” Though there is wide recognition of the role of prescription opioids in the epidemic, evidence has shown that heroin and synthetic opioids contribute to the majority of opioid overdose deaths. It is essential to reframe the preventive strategies in place against the opioid crisis with attention to factors surrounding the illicit use of fentanyl and heroin.

Data on opioid overdose deaths shows 42,000 deaths in 2016. Of these, synthetic opioids other than methadone were responsible for over 20,000, heroin for over 15,000, and natural and semi-synthetic opioids other than methadone responsible for over 14,000. Fentanyl deaths increased 520% from 2009 to 2016 (increased by 87.7% annually between 2013 and 2016), and heroin deaths increased 533% from 2000 to 2016. Prescription opioid deaths increased by 18% overall between 2009 and 2016.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mandated reductions in opioid production by 25% in 2017 and 20% in 2018. The number of prescriptions for opioids declined significantly from 252 million in 2013 to 196 million in 2017 (9% annual decline over this period), falling below the number of prescriptions in 2006. In addition, data from 2017 shows significant reductions in the milligram equivalence of morphine by 12.2% and in the number of patients receiving high dose opioids by 16.1%.

This manuscript describes the escalation of opioid use in the United States, discussing the roles played by drug manufacturers and distributors, liberalization by the DEA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), licensure boards and legislatures, poor science, and misuse of evidence-based medicine. Moreover, we describe how the influence of pharma, improper advocacy by physician groups, and the promotion of literature considered peer-reviewed led to the explosive use of illicit drugs arising from the issues surrounding prescription opioids.

This manuscript describes a 3-tier approach presented to Congress. Tier 1 includes an aggressive education campaign geared toward the public, physicians, and patients. Tier 2 includes facilitation of easier access to non-opioid techniques and the establishment of a National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act (NASPER). Finally, Tier 3 focuses on making buprenorphine more available for chronic pain management as well as for medication-assisted treatment.

KEY WORDS: Opioid epidemic, fentanyl and heroin epidemic, prescription opioids, National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act (NASPER), Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs)