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Struggle Over When to Prescribe for Opioid Addiction

Greg Stotelmyer, Public News Service

The overdose of painkillers kills more than 60 Americans every day, and between 2005 and 2014 there was a 99 percent increase in the number of people going to an emergency room because of it. But according to the American Psychological Association, doctors have been reluctant to prescribe treatment designed to prevent addiction.

At Johns Hopkins University, post-doctorate fellow Dr. Andrew Huhn said Suboxone was approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder in 2002. However, research by the APA found many doctors are not willing to increase their use of it.

"It reduces the risk of relapse to illicit opioids, and it also has been shown to reduce the incidence of overdose death" Huhn said. "It can be a treatment that's used in the short term; it can be a treatment that's used long term."

According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, there were more than 1,400 overdose deaths last year in the state. Reports from coroners show that 34 percent of the deaths involved the use of heroin, up six percent from 2015.

Methadone is the other drug prescribed for opioid addiction, but many in the regulatory and law-enforcement communities are concerned that both it and Suboxone are being abused at high rates. According to APA research, doctors are concerned about the number of patients requesting treatment for painkiller abuse, and many don't have the time to take on new patients. Huhn said it's a crisis that keeps getting worse every year - and it's destroying lives.

"Addiction or opioid-use disorder is a chronic disease, so just like diabetes or asthma, it's not going to go away," he said. "If you have a severe opioid use disorder, it needs to be treated like a chronic disease."

Government data published earlier this year estimated that 1.27 million people were hospitalized or sought help at an emergency room for opioid-related issues in 2014.

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