Prescription Drugs

What Can Be Done About Opioid Painkiller Overprescribing?

Federal government is

  • Supporting states that want to develop programs and policies to prevent prescription painkiller overdose, while ensuring patients’ access to safe, effective pain treatment.
  • Improving patient safety by supplying health care providers with data, tools, and guidance for decision making based on proven practices.
  • Increasing access to mental health and substance abuse treatment through the Affordable Care Act.

States can

  • Consider ways to increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which are state-run databases that track prescriptions for painkillers and can help find problems in overprescribing. Use of these programs is greater when they make data available in realtime, are universal (used by all prescribers for all controlled substances), and are actively managed (for example, send alerts to prescribers when problems are identified).
  • Consider policy options (including laws and regulation) relating to pain clinics to reduce prescribing practices that are risky to patients.
  • Evaluate their own data and programs and consider ways to assess their Medicaid, workers’ compensation programs, and state-run health plans to detect and address inappropriate prescribing of painkillers.
  • Identify opportunities to increase access to substance abuse treatment and consider expanding first responder access to naloxone, a drug used when people overdose.

Health care providers can

  • Use prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who might be misusing their prescription drugs, putting them at risk for overdose.
  • Use effective treatments such as methadone or buprenorphine for patients with substance abuse problems.
  • Discuss with patients the risks and benefits of pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription painkillers.
  • Follow best practices for responsible painkiller prescribing, including:
    • Screening for substance abuse and mental health problems.
    • Avoiding combinations of prescription painkillers and sedatives unless there is a specific medical indication.
    • Prescribing the lowest effective dose and only the quantity needed depending on the expected length of pain.

Everyone can

  • Avoid taking prescription painkillers more often than prescribed.
  • Dispose of medications properly, as soon as the course of treatment is done, and avoid keeping prescription painkillers or sedatives around “just in case.”
  • Help prevent misuse and abuse by not selling or sharing prescription drugs. Never use another person’s prescription drugs.
  • Get help for substance abuse problems 1-800-662-HELP. Call Poison Help 1-800-222-1222 if you have questions about medicines.
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