The issue of opioid abuse and over-prescribing is a major public health concern. Family physicians have faced criticism given the fact that family physicians are the largest prescribers of these medications.
“Opioid abuse is wreaking havoc in families and communities across the United States. That is why family physicians are working hard to balance the need for adequate pain management with the constant awareness that addiction to opioids is a national health crisis.
The AAFP is deeply aware of the devastation caused by prescription drug abuse and the resulting deaths. At the same time, it needs to address the ongoing need to provide adequate pain management to support patients who require pain relief to function on a daily basis.
To be clear, opioids are not the first choice for family physicians treating patients with chronic pain. In a 2012 study of AAFP members, four other treatment methods were prescribed or recommended for patients dealing with non-malignant chronic pain before opioids—physical and occupational therapy, oral NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and antidepressants.
It’s a fact that a growing percentage of the U.S. population uses opioid analgesics for pain control. According to government statistics, sales of opioid pain relievers quadrupled between 1999 and 2013. This is due in large part to the promotion of ‘pain as the fifth vital sign’ begun by the American Pain Society in 1996 and strongly supported by many federal governmental organizations, the Federation of State Medical Boards, and the Joint Commission.
The AAFP recognizes the need for evidence?based physician education to ensure the safest and most effective use of long?acting and extended?release opioids and has long educated its members on the appropriate use of opioids and recognizing the signs of addiction. In 2014, 17,720 active AAFP members took a minimum of 133,885 hours of continuing medical education about the use and prescribing of opioid medications. This averages 7.6 hours of education on this topic by member. And, the AAFP is working to increase that number by providing additional pain management and opioid abuse educational opportunities to its members and others.
The AAFP also works closely with other organizations to combat the scourge of opioid abuse—the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Medical Association Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to name a few.
Opioid abuse is destroying the fabric of the lives of too many patients, their families, and their communities. Family physicians are committed to being a part of the solution to help slow this devastating epidemic. We must be supported in our efforts to balance pain relief with a desire to always do no harm.”