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  • Unintended Origins, New Directions, Dark Reality: Latest News on the Opioid Epidemic

    Although awareness of the severity of the nation's opioid crisis is growing and the number of practice guidelines recommending nondrug approaches to pain treatment is increasing, the problem itself continues to take its toll on Americans across the country. That toll is well-documented by the media, with an increasing amount of attention also being paid to how the country found itself in this situation and what we do to make our way out of it.

    Here's a brief roundup of recent reports.

    Despite guidelines, Americans are still receiving lots of opioids for low back pain.
    A National Public Radio – Truven survey reveals that more than half of respondents experienced low back pain in the last year; among those who sought help from a physician, a surprisingly high number received prescriptions for painkillers. "We have a serious problem with our health care delivery system where physicians are highly incentivized to prescribe pills and perform procedures because that's what pays," Stanford University psychiatrist Anna Lembke tells NPR. "They're also motivated to please patients but don't have much time to manage complex medical conditions."

    Did this 1980 letter help to spark the opioid epidemic?
    The New York Times reports on "how a one-paragraph letter with no supporting information helped seed a nationwide epidemic of misuse of drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin by convincing doctors that opioids were safer than we now know them to be." The letter, which appeared in a 1980 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, has been cited more than 600 times as evidence that addiction was a rare occurrence; the letter's author, Hershel Jick, MD, tells the Associated Press that "I'm essentially mortified that that letter to the editor was used as an excuse to do what these drug companies did."

    Fentanyl use is spreading at a harrowing rate.
    According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the amount of DEA seizures of drugs that include fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. "Drug use today has become a game of Russian roulette. There's no such thing as a safe batch; this is the opioid crisis at its worst," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne tells CNN.

    Ohio is suing 5 drug companies for their role in the opioid crisis.
    Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that the state has sued 5 drug companies, alleging misconduct by intentionally lying about the dangers of painkillers and making false claims about the benefits of the drugs. In 2016, overdose deaths rose to more than 4,000—a 36% increase from 2015. "This lawsuit is about justice, it's about fairness, it's about what is right," DeWine said. "These drug companies knew that what they were doing was wrong and they did it anyway."

    One businessman is shining a light on evidence as the path out of the opioid epidemic.
    From Forbes magazine: Former hotel entrepreneur Gary Mendell founded Shatterproof to battle the opioid crisis, and has formed a task force that, instead of being led by high-profile business or health care industry leaders, puts "science front and center" by turning over leadership to experts in the science behind pain and addiction. The task force aims to "find evidence-based ways for employers and state governments … to incentivize healthcare providers to use more evidenced-based quality measures and approaches to treat patients with pain or addiction," according to the article.

    APTA's #ChoosePT campaign is aimed at informing consumers that physical therapy is an effective alternative to drugs for the treatment of pain. Housed at MoveForwardPT.com/ChoosePT, #ChoosePT includes a video public service announcement, as well as other targeted advertising and media outreach.

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