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Papers of the Week

2019 Nov

Prev Med


Deploying science to change hearts and minds: Responding to the opioid crisis.


Walsh SL, Long KQX
Prev Med. 2019 Nov; 128:105780.
PMID: 31319116.


The U.S. opioid epidemic, now in its third decade, continues to claim tens of thousands of lives each year. Despite strong scientific evidence to support the deployment of effective interventions from prevention to treatment, implementation and access to quality care continue to lag, in part, due to continued opioid prescribing, siloing of treatment services for those with opioid use disorder (OUD), public support for non-evidence-based practices, stigma, and discrimination. Primary prevention efforts should focus on avoiding exposure to opioids for chronic non-cancer pain, as there is little evidence of efficacy but substantial evidence of harms. FDA-approved medications for OUD (MOUD) have incontrovertible evidence supporting their efficacy, and their use saves lives. However, fewer than 10% of those in need are able to receive MOUD. The barriers include an inadequate workforce, inadequate reimbursement, challenges navigating the treatment system, and profiteering bad actors (e.g., treatment brokers, programs delivering non-evidenced-based care). Perhaps the greatest challenge (and deterrent from receiving MOUD) is stigma and lack of public knowledge about their efficacy. Detoxification is probably the most common form of "treatment" for OUD, but the evidence shows that detoxification actually increases the risk for overdose. Expansion of MOUD delivery in the criminal justice system, health care systems and communities is essential to stemming the tide of this epidemic. This article is a call to action for the scientific community to ensure that scientific evidence is guiding patient care, funding for treatment, and policy decisions that address the opioid epidemic.