Experts in public health say Virginia is battling two big problems – an epidemic of opioid abuse and the need to better control pain in patients with serious injuries or disease. Now, a professor from the University of Virginia is stepping in to help with baseline information that could influence future laws and guidelines.
Over an eight-year period, More than 4,000 people in this state took a fatal dose of Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet or some other opioid medication. That’s prompted the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association to issue guidelines for doctors who prescribe painkillers in the emergency room. That concerns Virginia LeBaron, an assistant professor at UVA’s School of Nursing.
“Recommendations can be perceived as requirements, and they can be applied in ways for which they were not intended.”
For example, she says, the guidelines recommend asking patients for a photo ID before prescribing opioid drugs, and that could prevent people who really need pain relief from getting it.
”While that is well intentioned, I think there’s a risk that could disproportionately affect patients who are poor, who may not have photo ID.”
The key, she says, is for health care providers to strike a balance between the genuine need for pain control and the fight to prevent drug abuse. To achieve that balance, she says, lawmakers and healthcare professionals need to understand what’s actually happening in the real world, so she plans to study the situation in southwest Virginia.
“We’re interested in looking at prescriptions that are written for opioids, the number of prescribers in a certain geographical area, what pharmacies may have in stock, admissions for substance abuse treatment, opioid-related fatalities in certain geographical areas for example.”
She hopes to gather, analyze and publish data over the next year. Virginias Secretary of Health and Human Services is anxious to see where LeBaron finds evidence of under treatment and over prescription.
For more information on opioids, check out the Food and Drug Administration's website. You can also find information on opioid prescriptions within the state at the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association's website.