According to the FDA, it’s estimated that two million people in the US are addicted to prescription painkillers, causing almost 218,000 overdose deaths between 1999 and 2017.
And with the number of fatalities on the rise, health officials and lawmakers are desperately seeking new ways to deal with the epidemic and reduce the number of fatalities.
To try and improve the situation and limit the number of deaths, new laws in a number of US states will, going forward, require doctors prescribing opioids to patients at high risk of an overdose to also prescribe them with naloxone – which could save lives.
Patients are considered to be high risk if they take large doses or have a history of drug addiction. The laws will apply to California, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Arizona, and Rhode Island.
If successful, the FDA says it could roll out the law to the rest of the country in a bid to bring down the number of individuals becoming addicted to opioids, and to reduce the number of overdoses and fatalities in the future.
At the moment, pharmacists in California are allowed to prescribe Naloxone to individuals who they believe are at risk of opioid abuse. This has brought down the number of deaths, and health campaigners have welcomed an extension of this policy.
One of the biggest advantages of the new prescription rules is, according to health officials, that doctors will be able to start an open discussion with their patient about the risks of opioids and where to get help if they need it.
In an interview, Dr. Farshad Ahadian, medical director at the UC San Diego Health Center for Pain Medicine said: “Most providers probably feel that it’s better for physicians to self-regulate rather than practice medicine from the seat of the legislature.”
He added: “The truth is there’s been a lot of harm from opioids, a lot of addiction. It’s undeniable that we have to yield to that and to recognize that public safety is critical.”