Echoing the sentiments of more and more state and federal regulators, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has called for heightened national intervention in the curbing of opioid abuse. Murthy has suggested an approach to fighting heroin and prescription opioid addiction similar to the fashion in which the United States has combatted smoking and tobacco use. Speaking to more than 400 people earlier this month at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, Murthy bemoaned the devastation and loss that opioid addiction-a disease that claimed over 28,000 lives in 2014-has created in New Jersey as well as other communities throughout the country. The speech was part of a national tour to get the medical community, legislators and loved ones of addicts to rethink treatment options and prevention efforts.
Part of Murthy’s efforts to combat opioid addiction involves the first-ever commissioning of a national report on substance abuse and addiction, which is scheduled for release at the end of the year. He has also established a web-based resources, turnthetideRX.org, in an effort to lower the rate of unnecessary prescription dispensation. Perhaps the most poignant of his remarks came when he confessed that he never imagined that a majority of his time as a physician, or as Surgeon General, would be devoted to this problem; this is a sentiment to which many families all over America can no doubt relate as they’ve been blindsided by opioid abuse in one way or another.
Heightened Physician Accountability
A cornerstone of Murthy’s plan includes starting prescription opioid patients off with lower doses and increasing them, as needed, incrementally. The average pain patient receives a 30-day supply of opioids during their first doctor visit for the problem. Often, as Murthy points out, a three-day supply will suffice at first. He related anecdotes of his days as an intern in an effort to point out just how easy it is for patients to get their hands on these drugs, and just how easy it is for them to get addicted. More and more legislators have been calling for a more sophisticated system of opioid dispensation that increases doctor accountability.
The Continued Struggle of Supply Versus Demand
Also on hand at the event were New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez to discuss, among other factors, the continued need for treatment access. Long waiting lists, inadequate treatment resources and lack of funding continue to get in the way of addicts getting treatment in New Jersey as well as the rest of the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already labeled heroin a public health crisis. As for the aforementioned parallels between the opioid problem and the control of tobacco addiction, it is estimated that over 40 million Americans currently smoke cigarettes, signaling that the war on tobacco might not be the best analogy in addressing this problem. In any case, it’s hopeful that Dr. Murthy’s declaration will put some more institutional weight behind the pursuit of sensible, compassionate solutions.