In This Issue: Improving Opioid Safety
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The misuse of and addiction to opioids (i.e., prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl) is a serious national crisis, with more than 115 people in the United States dying every day following an overdose.1 From July 2016 through September 2017, opioid overdoses increased 30% in the United States, and significant increases were found in five Midwest region states, including Wisconsin (109%), and in three Northeast region states, including Delaware (105%). Increases were reported in every demographic group – males (30%), females (24%), and in all age groups – 25 to 34 years of age (31%), 35 to 54 years of age (36%), and 55 years of age and older (32%).2
In 2013, VA launched the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI), the first of several system-wide initiatives to address opioid overuse. As a result, by mid-2016 the number of Veterans dispensed an opioid each quarter had decreased by 172,000, or about 25%. In 2017, even fewer Veterans were receiving high doses of opioids or concomitant interacting medicines like benzodiazepines, and more Veterans were receiving non-opioid pain therapies, naloxone, and treatment for substance use disorders.3
- Vibolo-Kantor A, Seth P, Gladden M, et al. Vital Signs: Trends in emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses – United States, July 2016 to September 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 9, 2018.
- Opioid Overdose Crisis. March 2018. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- Gellad W, Good C, and Shulkin D. Addressing the opioid epidemic in the United States: Lessons from the Department of Veterans Affairs. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 1, 2017;177(5):611-612.