Most Americans are well aware of the opioid crisis fueled in past years by the rampant abuse of prescription painkillers. It’s been in the headlines again and again, and opioid addiction has been a heartless and often deadly intruder in many families.
A recent probe by The Washington Post put the crisis more clearly in focus, however, quantifying the staggering numbers of prescription painkillers that claimed nearly 100,000 lives in the United States between 2006 and 2012, a time-line analyzed by The Post. The newspaper’s research showed more than 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed and which companies manufactured them during that segment of the opioid crisis.
The Daily Inter Lake’s health-care reporter Kianna Gardner crunched the numbers further to find that more than 245 million prescription pain pills were supplied to Montana during that six-year period, with about 13 percent of the total funneled to Flathead County. Her report in today’s Inter Lake details the reasons for such rampant opioid use in Flathead and Northwest Montana. In a nutshell, this corner of the state has high numbers of veterans, disabled people and a burgeoning population of older residents. Those reasons make sense for higher opioid use.
What was startling, but perhaps not surprising, to learn was the pervasive campaigning by drug companies to prescribe pain meds to their patients. As Gardner’s article points out, “the over-prescribing of opioids and unabated manufacturing and distributing of the pills then continued until a crisis ensued.”
Thankfully, steps are being taken to reverse the culture of over-prescribing painkillers, and that includes work being done in Montana to stem opioid abuse. In 2011 the Montana Legislature authorized the Montana Prescription Drug Registry, an online tool that is helping providers. The use of the system was optional, but this year lawmakers passed legislation that takes effect in 2021, requiring physicians, with a few exceptions, to look at their patient’s history in the system prior to prescribing opioids and other drugs.
In Flathead County in recent years, Kalispell Regional and other clinics have moved to a system called Meditech, through which all prescriptions are presumably tracked through the system, allowing physicians and others to see what someone has been prescribed, how much they were prescribed, and when.
State officials are working with the Montana Primary Care Association, which is offering trainings for health-care providers on treating opioid use disorder and have also given community presentations. And with the assistance of the Montana Medical Association, the state will be releasing a series of continuing medical education videos for providers, including topics such as working with patients who have opioids as part of their treatment plan for chronic pain.
There’s much more work to be done, but these are all good steps toward quelling the overuse of prescription opioids and striving to stave off addictions.