Patient-Education Program Targets Opioid Misuse, Abuse, and Overdose

Opioids911-Safety is a new Web-based education program designed for patients and their caregivers.

Opioids911-Safety is a new Web-based education program designed for patients and their caregivers and provides an understanding of opioid analgesics, their risks, and safe practices to prevent opioid-related problems.

Opioid analgesics are essential for relieving many types of cancer and noncancer pain. The prescribing of opioids has dramatically risen during the past two decades. Along with that, however, prescription opioid misuse, abuse, diversion, and deadly overdose have become a public health crisis of epidemic proportions.[1] Unless those safety problems can be stemmed the availability of opioid pain relievers for patients in need may be severely restricted.

All authorities have stressed the need for better patient education to help curb the crisis and this is the mission of Opioids911-Safety. Research evidence confirms that a lack of patient education in the past has resulted in unsafe practices that are driving alarming trends. For example:

  • According to recent government data, 7 out of 10 persons who misuse or abuse opioids get them from relatives or friends who, in most cases, do not keep their prescribed opioids in a safe place.[2]
  • In one study, 72% of patients reported having leftover opioid medication but only a quarter said they properly disposed of it and the rest kept the excess opioids on hand for later use or to illegally share with others.[3]
  • Another study found that nearly half of patients prescribed opioid analgesics did not follow directions, with 34% of them admitting underuse and 14% overuse of their pain relievers.[4]
  • An extensive investigation found that less than a quarter (23%) of patients read and/or understand the information and instructions that come with their opioid prescriptions.[5]
  • The U.S. CDC indicates that accidental prescription-opioid overdose deaths increased 5-fold during the past decade, reaching 12,000 fatalities in 2007 and vastly exceeding deaths due to cocaine and heroin combined.[6]
  • In an investigation of opioid-related deaths, the majority of fatalities (65%) occurred within one week of a change in medication dose; most were discovered in the morning in bed and nobody had watched over them.[7]

Many of the reported problems with prescription opioids could be avoided if patients follow safe practices and know how to handle opioid emergencies if they do occur. In short, patients should and can assume greater responsibility for opioid safety but they need education in order to do that.

“Our view is that most persons will use their prescribed opioid pain relievers responsibly and safeguard them from doing others harm IF they know what to do,” said Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD, Executive Director of the Opioids911-Safety program. “Necessary information has been widely scattered over the Internet and available from other sources — we brought it all together in one convenient place for patients, their caregivers (relatives or friends who help look after them), and their healthcare providers.”

The Opioids911.org website has four sections providing an understanding of the various types of opioid pain relievers and their risks, along with specific safety-action steps for preventing opioid misuse, abuse, addiction, diversion, overmedication, and life threatening overdose. Plus, there are life-saving instructions for what to do in an opioid-emergency situation and links to other helpful resources.

There also are special tools and resources for healthcare providers, since patient education on opioid safety should begin at the point-of-care whenever an opioid prescription is written. These include a slide/flip-chart presentation, instructional handout materials for patients and their caregivers, and other tools for effectively using the Opioids911-Safety program. “This is essential,” Leavitt said, “because research has shown that two-thirds of the time busy healthcare providers do not adequately instruct patients on critical drug-safety practices.[8] So, this new program makes it easy to start the opioid education process before patients leave the clinic or office.”

This first-of-its kind program can be accessed free of charge and without required registration.

The above information was provided by Pain Treatment Topics.