Nevada has an unfortunate distinction when it comes to the abuse of prescription painkillers. It ranks in the top 20 percent in all four age groups in the percentage of people reporting non-medical use of pain relievers, according to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency. More Nevadans abuse prescription drugs than their counterparts in other Western states.
But as someone who has dealt with chronic, life-altering pain for many years, I’m always heartened to see solutions that help to balance the importance of pain management with the cost prescription drug abuse has on society.
Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) as well as Sjögren’s Syndrome, a second autoimmune disease, as well as leading a global organization that represents patients who also are affected with these diseases, I have spent years understanding the frustrating world of managing daily pain. I’m fortunate to only need these medications sparingly, because my disease is not yet as advanced or aggressive as many others living with these same illnesses, but most patients with Autoimmune Arthritis diseases do require some level of prescription pain killers to live a full and productive life. So while doctors are becoming increasingly wary of prescribing powerful narcotics, those suffering with chronic, debilitating pain are suffering due to the proliferation of abuse.
Curbing the nonmedical use of painkillers requires a many-pronged solution, and one particularly promising piece of the puzzle has emerged in recent years. So-called “abuse- deterrent formulas” of commonly prescribed narcotic painkillers are being developed to prevent some of the most deadly forms of pain pill abuse. Manipulating opioids by chewing them or crushing them to inject or inhale them is a popular – and particularly deadly – means of abuse because users report a more intense and rapid euphoria. These new opioid medications provide patients with the same pain relief as conventional opioids, but incorporate breakthrough technology designed to protect against tampering.
These tamper-proof formulas contain physical or chemical properties that prevent crushing or block the euphoric effect when the opioid is manipulated. Almost 70 percent of opioids abused are obtained from family or friends. But this technology can prevent children, caregivers and thieves from stealing pain pills from patients and altering them to abuse them.
Several states including Nevada are considering legislation this year to improve and safeguard patient access to these new formulas of painkillers.
Abuse-deterrent formulations have received widespread support as part of a comprehensive effort to combat prescription drug abuse and promote appropriate pain management, including support from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, members of Congress and the National Association of Attorneys General. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved abuse-deterrent labeling for four drugs, with other abuse-deterrent opioids in various stages of development.
In Nevada, and several other states, lawmakers will be asked this year to consider policy to boost access to and use of abuse-proof opioid formulas. I would urge them to carefully consider the benefits that these advances can have in a state where narcotic abuse is dangerously rampant, but where thousands of patients who need these medications and use them safely must have access to the treatment they deserve
With Nevadans disproportionately impacted by prescription painkiller abuse, I urge our lawmakers to stand up for policies that preserve and improve patient access to this new technology. Failing to do so would be failing to do all we can to protect our residents, because in the hands of knowledgeable, ethical and experienced pain management practitioners, opiates administered for severe acute pain and severe chronic intractable pain can be safe.
It seems like a win-win to me to enable our medical professionals to offer pain relief to those who so desperately need it, while deploying technology that can save the lives of those prone to misusing these medications.
Tiffany Westrich is CEO and co-founder of the International Foundation for Autoimmune Arthritis.