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Group Health establishes major initiative to prevent opioid abuse and overdose
Date:8/3/2011

SEATTLEFatal overdoses involving prescribed opioids tripled in the United States between 1999 and 2006, climbing to almost 14,000 deaths annuallymore than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined. Hospitalizations and emergency room visits related to prescription opioid pain medicines such as oxycodone (brand name Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) also increased dramatically in the same period.

Now a report in the August issue of Health Affairs describes a major initiative at Group Health to make opioid prescribing safer while improving care for patients with chronic pain. Health Affairs is the nation's premier health policy journal, and its August issue focuses on substance abuse.

In the Group Health initiative's first nine months, clinicians at the Seattle-based integrated health system developed and documented care plans for almost 6,000 patients85 percent of those receiving long-term opioid therapy for chronic non-cancer pain.

Group Health's initiative was implemented well before the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a national action plan in April 2011 to stem the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Scientists from Group Health Research Institute are evaluating the initiative's effects on care, hoping Group Health's experience can help guide national efforts.

Use of prescription opioids has increased sharply since the 1980s. Excluding people with cancer and those in end-of-life care, about 4 percent of U.S. adults now use prescription opioids long term. Pharmaceutical industry advocacy and education have fueled increased opioid prescribing for chronic non-cancer paindespite limited scientific evidence supporting the drugs' long-term effectiveness for chronic non-cancer pain.

In January 2010, Group Health Research Institute Senior Investigator Michael Von Korff, ScD, and colleagues published the first-ever stu
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Contact: Rebecca Hughes
hughes.r@ghc.org
206-287-2055
Group Health Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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