Overcoming the opioid crisis

In response to opioid abuse that has skyrocketed in the U.S. in recent years, communities, clinicians, state and local leaders, and federal officials have been working on several fronts to stem the crisis—but there’s still much more to do.

So wrote Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a September 2, 2015 article in JAMA Forum.

Nearly 2 million people abuse or are dependent on prescription opioids, and more than half a million abuse or are dependent on heroin—statistics that have skyrocketed over the past decade, Koh wrote. He noted the dramatic increase in annual opioid-related deaths: From 2001-2013, they rose three-fold for prescription opioid analgesics, to more than 16,200, and five-fold for heroin, to more than 8,200.

There’s been a dramatic response to the crisis, Koh wrote. Clinicians are trying to prescribe opioids less frequently; most states have established prescription drug monitoring programs that electronically track prescriptions of all controlled drugs; the use of naloxone, which can prevent opioid-related death, has increased; treatment and prevention efforts have ramped up; and there’s been an effort to humanize the epidemic in the media and to cast opioid abuse as a chronic disease instead of a moral failing.

Koh called for continued and sustained effort to beat the epidemic. “Overcoming the opioid crisis will require the highest level of commitment of communities, clinicians, public health, and public safety for many years to come,” he wrote.

Read Howard Koh’s JAMA Forum article: Community Approaches to the Opioid Crisis

Learn more

Poll: Many Americans know someone who has abused prescription painkillers and suffered major harmful effects (Harvard Chan School release)

Opioid Painkiller Abuse: Ending the Crisis (Forum at Harvard Chan School)