Opioid Knowledge Gaps Persist Amid Epidemic

Only one-quarter of patients prescribed opioids discussed the potential of addiction with their provider.

Each week, many Americans experience an opioid-related overdose, with only some individuals receiving life-saving treatments. Legislators have implemented new laws and advocacy groups have pushed for changes to regulations and prescribing guidelines in an effort to reduce the effects of the opioid epidemic.

The results of a survey conducted by Prime Therapeutics suggests that many tools with the capability of combatting the opioid epidemic may be underused.

“As organizations come together to solve this crisis, there is opportunity to maximize tools available today and fully inform patients of the risks of controlled substances while providing access to overdose and addiction resources if needed,” said Jonathan Gavras, MD, chief medical officer at Prime. “The opioid crisis is claiming thousands of lives a year and everyone needs to do more to help ensure safe pain management and prevent abuse and misuse. Our survey finds perhaps there’s room for more solutions and greater diligence to help educate patients about opioids.”

A majority of respondents said they were concerned about the opioid epidemic, with 87% saying addiction to prescription pain drugs is a serious issue and 72% saying it’s a very serious issue. However, less than half of individuals surveyed indicated that addiction to alcohol or smoking were serious.

Prime discovered that 50% of respondents would be concerned about developing an addiction if they were prescribed opioids and 28% reported they are very concerned, according to the study.

Notably, 72% of individuals felt that alternative, non-opioid treatments should be offered to patients experiencing pain.

The respondents indicated that physicians are viewed as a group who can play a crucial role in solving the opioid epidemic, while only 9% felt the government would be able to help, according to the study.

Overall, 51% of respondents said they took opioids, but only one-quarter discussed the potential of addiction with their provider. Prime found that 11% of individuals discussed what to do in case of an overdose. These findings underscore the critical need for patient outreach and education programs, according to the release.

An additional issue that the survey highlighted was the knowledge gap about medication disposal. Only 17% of respondents said a healthcare professional informed them of how to dispose of unused medication.

Prime found that nearly one-quarter of patients treated with opioids said they were not aware of how to dispose of the drugs. Among those who dispose of unused medication, only 27% take advantage of drug take back programs, according to the study.

Through Prime’s GuidedHealth service, the pharmacy benefit manager notifies prescribers when their patients may be at risk of abuse or misuse. This program has led to a 71% drop in high-risk opioid users among commercial members, according to Prime.

These findings suggest that despite efforts to curb the epidemic, significant knowledge gaps exist for patients.

“Physicians are on the front lines of this crisis, but they may not have the information they need to identify which patients are at greater risk of abuse or may be misusing their controlled substances,” Dr Gavras said. “Through our GuidedHealth program, we proactively reach out to prescribers to alert them to potential concerns, enabling them to guide their patients to safer doses, alternative pain treatments, or other support sooner. More efforts like this — that prevent overuse and promote safe disposal – are also needed.”