Researchers from Brandeis University, the University of North Florida, and Johns Hopkins University have proposed that in order to reduce the increasing number of opioid-related overdose deaths that occur each year, policymakers should focus on preventing new cases of opioid addiction from both medical and non-medical use and expand access to opioid treatment. This study appears in the journal Annual Review of Public Health.

The authors state that despite the fact that new cases of non-medical abuse of opioids have declined since 2002, opioid-related overdose deaths have increased. This suggests that opioid addiction rates began to increase as long-term prescribing of opioids for chronic pain became a more common practice by clinicians.

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They offer that that certain public health strategies that have been enacted for controlling disease outbreaks may also be effective for prevention and treatment of opioid addiction. Prevention strategies described in the study include:

  • Primary prevention: preventing addiction caused by medical and nonmedical exposure to opioid pain relievers (OPRs).
  • Secondary prevention: efforts to identify and treat opioid-addicted individuals early in the course of the disease are likely to reduce the risk of overdose, such as the wider use of state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMPs) data to alert prescribers to possible doctor-shopping by patients.
  • Tertiary prevention: opioid addiction treatment including pharmacotherapies and psychosocial approaches, residential treatment, mutual-help programs (e.g., Narcotics Anonymous), and 12-Step treatment programs. Harm-reduction approaches such as expanding access to naloxone.

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