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New program targets research on reducing deaths due to prescription opioid overdose

PROVIDENCE, RI A $250,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will support a Rhode Island Hospital research study aimed at reducing the state's leading cause of accidental death among adults. Researchers will explore the use and effectiveness of statewide prescription monitoring programs (PMP) in reducing the number of accidental overdose deaths involving prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin in both Rhode Island and Connecticut. The grant is one of only two projects awarded nationally this year by CDC for unintentional poisoning research.

The study will also involve a rapid assessment and response project, a community-driven process that gathers information and locally-relevant recommendations to address a pressing health problem. The projects will focus on two communities one in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut that have been identified as more hard-hit by prescription opioid abuse and overdose deaths.

Overdose claims the lives of nearly two RI residents each week, making its mortality rate more prevalent than that of motor vehicle accidents. Nationally, more overdose deaths are caused by prescription drugs than all illegal drugs combined. Surveillance data from 2007 ranked RI among the top third in the country for prescription opioid abuse.

With this in mind, Traci Green, PhD, MSc, a research scientist with Rhode Island Hospital, will lead the study that will investigate PMPs in both Rhode Island and Connecticut to understand how they may positively impact these growing trends. Green says, "The problem of prescription opioid abuse and overdose is at a critical point. We've seen that prescription monitoring programs can influence diversion and access to medications that could potentially be abused, but they are also a source of unique public health data on how much drug is being prescribed, to whom, by whom, and when and where these medications are being filled." Green comments further, "Our goal with this study is to see if we can put the PMP data to use for public health surveillance and to inform preventative action."

Linking data from the PMPs and other state agencies, Green and her colleagues will study all accidental overdose deaths among adults in CT and RI in 2009 that involve a prescription opioid. The researchers hope to be able to refine the definition of "doctor shopping" (i.e., seeing multiple physicians to fill prescriptions). They will also compare the use of the RI and CT PMPs as a component of clinical care and potential overdose prevention tool for prescribers and dispensers through a survey of RI and CT health professionals. Bringing together what is learned from the data to identify communities particularly hard-hit by prescription opioid abuse and overdose deaths, Green's research team will provide strategic support to one community in each state to carry out an evaluation and develop a locally relevant response to the problem.

The team will work closely with the directors of the PMPs in both states Cathy Cordy, RPh, director of the RI Board of Pharmacy, which houses and runs the RI PMP, and John Gadea, RPh, director of the Division of Drug Control for the Department of Consumer Protection in CT, which oversees the CT PMP. They will also work closely with the RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services; and the state medical examiner's offices in RI and CT.

Cordy says, "This is a unique research study that will utilize prescription monitoring data to provide important information about the non-medical abuse of prescription opioids and assist in developing innovative public health strategies, interventions and educational initiatives that will save lives."

Gadea agrees, and comments, "This research will provide the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection with valuable information that will be used to develop appropriate health care strategies and initiatives to benefit our communities and firmly establish the prescription monitoring program as a premier health care tool."

Green says the study is already underway and is expected to be completed by September 2012. At that time, their findings will then be disseminated to the scientific community and to state and local officials.

The study is funded through an award from The Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC.


Contact: Nancy Cawley Jean

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