In the first 15 years of this millennium, the number of opioid prescriptions that American physicians handed out quadrupled, contributing to one of the worst public health crises in U.S. history.  From a peak of 255 million prescriptions in 2012, or 81.3 per 100 people, the prescribing rate has fallen to 66.5 per 100 people in 2016. This, however, may be too little too late as the number of drug overdose fatalities in 2016 rose to 59,000, a 19 percent increase over the previous year and an all-time high. This may change with new measures to combat opioid addictions.

No state has avoided this epidemic of opioid addiction, and that includes Colorado which lost 900 residents to overdoses last year. Like most other states, Colorado has experienced a growing number of medical emergencies related to prescription opioid and heroin use in recent years. Since 2006, the number of heroin-caused deaths has climbed 500 percent.

In response, the state legislature has introduced several bills for consideration that target opioid dissemination and treatment availability. The Clinical Practice for Opioid Prescribing Bill will limit the amount of opioid medications prescribed to a 7-day supply with one refill option. However, the bill allows for exceptions including chronic pain symptoms lasting more than 90 days, cancer patients, health conditions with worsening progression, and drugs that have an abuse deterrent.

The Opioid Misuse Prevention Bill would study the medication-assisted and other treatment options currently in use around the country, as well as the scope of the substance abuse problem within Colorado. One primary goal of this new policy is to identify gaps in prevention, intervention and treatment, while formulating legislative strategies to mitigate those shortcomings.

The Substance Use Disorder Harm Reduction bill proposes that hospitals serve as clean syringe exchange locations and empowers schools to obtain opiate antagonists for use in opiate overdose intervention. This law would also reexamine judicial sentencing guidelines for opioid-related offenses.

Finally, the Substance Use Disorder Payment and Coverage Bill would require that all health insurance policies include annual coverage for a five-day supply of buprenorphine, a commonly used opiate antagonist that has proven successful in opiate addiction treatment. Additionally, this bill would shield providers from actions taken by insurers in response to patient satisfaction surveys related to pain treatment. One provision would also allow pharmacists to obtain augmented fees from physician networks for dispensing medication-assisted treatment products. Another component of this bill would enable the Colorado medical assistance program to streamline reimbursement for intranasal naloxone.

With these and other measures, Colorado is marshalling available public health resources to help turn the tide on the opioid crisis. While many of these proposals may be somewhat flawed and open to criticism, there is little doubt that state legislators recognize the growing magnitude of the problem. Hopefully, these measures will help diminish this public health crisis, but there should also be an ongoing discussion about additional actions as this problem evolves. It is certain that Coloradoans will continue to suffer from the flood of opioids on our streets, but firm, swift action may save many that might otherwise have been lost.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.