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An Evidence-Based Approach to the Opioid Addiction Epidemic

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Researchers Recommend Research—Not Emotion—Guide Response to Nationwide Epidemic of Opioid Addiction and Overdose Deaths

More than 16,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses related to opioid pain relievers in 2013, four times the number who died in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prescription opioid sales have increased 300 percent since 1999. The CDC estimates that two million Americans were dependent on opioid medications in 2013.

As part of a focused effort to elevate high-impact solutions to a tragic public health crisis, experts at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published The Prescription Opioid Epidemic: An Evidence-Based Approach, a set of recommendations aimed at stemming an epidemic that claims the lives of 44 people a day in the U.S.

Pill Bottles

Developed by professionals from medicine, pharmacy, injury prevention and law, the report was the centerpiece of a November 17, 2015 forum hosted by the Bloomberg School and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. The event, held at the School, included Michael Botticelli, MEd, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Christopher Jones, PharmD, MPH, director of Science Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Bloomberg School faculty Joshua Sharfstein, MD, and Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, MPH.

“What’s important about these recommendations is that they cover the entire supply chain, from training doctors to working with pharmacies and the pharmaceuticals themselves, as well as reducing demand by mobilizing communities and treating people addicted to opioids,” says Andrea Gielen, ScD '89, ScM '79, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School and one of the report’s signatories

The report calls for more health care provider training in pain relief alternatives, changes to guidelines for dispensing and monitoring prescriptions and in how first responders are equipped to treat overdoses, and better identification and treatment for those in the grip of addiction. 

“We tried to identify as many windows as possible and to tie together as much research as available.”

Says G. Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at the Bloomberg School and a report signatory: “We tried to identify as many windows as possible, and to tie together as much research as available, to inform these recommendations which together we believe provide the best chance of turning this steamship around.”

Download the full report