OPINION: The battle against Opioid addiction is personal -- and it starts with us

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OPINION: The battle against Opioid addiction is personal -- and it starts with us

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

By S. Bobby Mukkamala, MD, MSMS Chair

Opioid addiction doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care if you're a man or a woman, black or white, rich or poor, young or old. It's cold, it's thoughtless, and all it demands of its victims is absolutely everything.

Michigan physicians are on the literal frontlines of a war against opioid abuse, and while we've raised a lot of awareness about the crisis over the last few years -- and even taken some big, important steps towards addressing it -- it's more important than ever we redouble our commitment to solutions.

That starts with taking a cold, hard look at how we got here, and what it'll take to move forward.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, each day in the United States, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed, 3,900 Americans use prescription opioids inappropriately for the very first time, 580 have their first experience with heroin use, and 78 people die as a result of opioid use and addiction.

Calling that a crisis hardly does it justice, especially when one considers that the statistics aren't just talking about pills and needles -- they're talking about individual lives.

Nearly 2,000 Michiganders lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses in 2015, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. Michigan had the 7th highest number of fatalities in the nation.

The good news is that we haven't taken this crisis lying down, and much of the important work that's been done at the state and local level the last few years has been spearheaded by Michigan physicians. We're leading task forces, helping craft legislation, and through associations like the Michigan State Medical Society have helped lead the charge to secure a desperately needed rebuild of the state's prescription drug monitoring system.

We're on the right track.

The new monitoring system will provide the kind of meaningful data sharing that can make a real difference. Tracking opioid prescriptions, problem communities, addiction-risks, and even physicians who prescribe a disproportionate amount of opioids will help us flag and address potential problems faster than ever.

Coming on line this year, the system is lightyears ahead of the previous tracking program, and also includes the ability to communicate with providers in other states, a critical development as we battle a prescription drug pipeline between Michigan and our southern neighbors.

Meanwhile physicians must continue ensuring patients get the comprehensive, effective treatments they need, especially for pain. Chronic and acute pain are real problems and failing to address them effectively has real world consequences. Honing our skills and addressing our patients' needs is a critical step to identifying long term solutions, and solutions that may or may not include a prescription for opioid pain killers.

Recently I have begun riding the MTA buses around Flint. It is clear from these experiences that there are many among us whose lives are turned upside down due to substance abuse issues. Whether it's individuals with family members battling addiction or the young professional I met earlier this month hopping the bus to his Flint Narcotics Anonymous meeting, opioid addiction touches nearly everyone in our community.

Every addiction statistic is made up of individual Michiganders. Somebody's mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister. Our friends. Our neighbors.

We have to do better.

For members of Michigan's physician community, that starts with us.

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