With opioid overdose deaths quadrupling since 1999, US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, has launched Turn the TideRx, a campaign encouraging healthcare professionals to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions they write.
“Everywhere I travel, I see communities devastated by opioid overdoses,” Murthy said. “I meet families too ashamed to seek treatment for addiction. And I will never forget my own patient whose opioid use disorder began with a course of morphine after a routine procedure.”
At turnthetiderx.org, healthcare professionals can find up-to-date information on when to prescribe opioids, opioid use disorder and overdose risk, and how to assess patients on opioids. Also, it features a downloadable pain treatment toolbox, plus links to free training.
The site’s section for patients explains the types of drugs that are classified as opioids while detailing their risks such as side effects, addictions, and overdose. A 6-step checklist walks patients through a typical course of treatment. And, there’s advice for addicts and their families.
“I know solving this problem will not be easy. We often struggle to balance reducing our patients’ pain with increasing their risk of opioid addiction,” Murthy said. “But as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 300% increase in opioid prescription sales since 1999 without an overall change in reported pain. More than 249 million prescriptions were written in 2013, or enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.
The campaign begins with education, Murthy said, which is why the site provides a brief and printable pocket guide physicians can use to help them decide if a patient would benefit from opioids. Next, Murthy is asking all healthcare providers to screen their patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment.
“Third, we can shape how the rest of the country sees addiction by talking about it and treating it as a chronic illness, not a moral failing,” Murthy said.
On the site, physicians can take a pledge and commit to these 3 steps in fighting opioid addiction and overdoses. Practitioners also are invited to share their stories of how the prescription opioid crisis has affected them and their patients, in addition to proposing new strategies for addressing the crisis.
The ADA has joined the campaign, with president Carol Gomez Summerhays asking members to take the pledge whether they prescribe opioid pain medications or not. Gomez Summerhays and executive director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin also conveyed their support in an open letter to Murthy.
“As prescribers of opioid pain medications, dentists have a role to play in keeping these drugs from becoming a source of harm,” they wrote. “Turn the TideRx complements what the ADA has been doing for several years to raise professional awareness about this issue—and mobilize dentists to take action.”
They further noted that the ADA has been offering free continuing education courses on opioids since 2012 and has prepared practical screening and prescription guides that dentists can use. Meanwhile, Murthy has been touring the nation to promote the campaign as well.
“I know we can succeed because healthcare is more than an occupation to us. It is a calling rooted in empathy, science, and service to humanity,” Murthy said. “These values unite us. They remain our greatest strength.”