AMA report: Opioid epidemic shows signs of leveling off

Published: Jun. 8, 2019 at 3:40 AM EDT
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There are signs the opioid epidemic could be letting up, according to a new report from the American Medical Association (AMA).

The AMA reports that opioid prescriptions have decreased 33 percent between 2013 and 2018, including a 12.4 percent decrease from 2017 and 2018.

“The opioid epidemic is at a crossroads,” said AMA President-elect Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., in a news release. Harris chairs the AMA Opioid Task Force. “While physicians must continue to demonstrate leadership by taking action, it is clear that these significant reductions in opioid prescribing, increases in prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) use and taking more education -- by themselves -- will not stop people from dying.”

The AMA reports that physicians and other health care providers used PDMPs more than 460 million times in 2018 – an increase of 167 million from 2017.

It also reports that more physicians and healthcare providers are trained and involved in continuing education regarding opioid prescribing, pain management, opioid use and substance use disorder treatment. In addition, a growing number of physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are certified to treat opioid use disorder – more than 66,000 by 2018.

The AMA also reports that nearly 600,000 Naloxone prescriptions were dispensed in 2018 – nearly a threefold increase since 2016 when 136,000 were dispensed.

Despite the optimism, the AMA reports that deaths from heroin and fentanyl remain at historic levels.

To help end the epidemic, the AMA is calling on lawmakers and other policymakers to end barriers to treatment and encourage health insurance providers to get on board with non-opioid alternatives to treatment.

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