By Elaine Pozycki and Steve Chassman | Updated June 1, 2023 | Source: Times Union
More than 80,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in the most recently measured 12 months, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Here in New York, we are now losing nearly 5,000 people annually to the scourge of opioids, and our Department of Health tells us the problem is getting worse.
Many factors contribute to this national public health crisis: overprescribing, loneliness and isolation, the spread of fentanyl, and more. But here’s a way to take on the problem at the source: Require doctors who are prescribing opioid painkillers to tell patients about the risks of dependence and addiction.
We know the importance of this knowledge from first-hand experience. Elaine’s son Steven became dependent on opioid-based pain relievers after they were prescribed to treat a sports injury. Had Elaine been told about the addictive qualities of the medicines Steven was prescribed, she would have looked for an alternative — and she would have known to look for signs and symptoms of abuse.
A survey by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation confirms that Elaine’s experience is all too common: 6 in 10 doctors nationally prescribe opioid painkillers without telling patients that they can be addictive.
Providing a timely warning at the point of initial prescription would give patients and their parents the information they need to be on the lookout for early signs of dependence. Just as importantly, this conversation would also inform parents and patients about non-opioid pain treatment options.
Legislation currently under consideration would accomplish these important objectives. Sponsored by Sen. Nathalia Fernandez and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, the bill (S3521/A1227) would require a conversation about the risks of dependence and possible non-opioid pain relief alternatives before any opioid-based pain reliever is prescribed.
Ensuring that a conversation occurs between doctors and patients and parents at the time it is most needed — right before an opioid is prescribed — is a simple but extremely effective step that we know saves lives. In the 18 states where versions of this common-sense legislation have passed, it is driving down the number of opioid-based painkillers that are prescribed annually, preventing new instances of opioid use disorder and saving lives. In neighboring New Jersey, the first state to adopt this approach, for example, a Brandeis University study of the law’s impact found a major drop in the number of patients started on opioids and a fourfold increase in the number of doctors warning patients about the risks of addiction.
The responsible prescribing of opioids, and a protocol of informing patients and families of their potential addictive qualities, will allow patients and families to make informed medical decisions based on family history and real-time pharmaceutical data and work in tandem with medical teams to develop the best possible treatment plans.
Every patient, and every parent, has the right to know the medicines they are about to receive can lead to dependency and addiction. This important measure will prevent avoidable deaths and ruined lives. We urge the Legislature to pass it.
Elaine Pozycki is the founder of Prevent Opioid Abuse. Steve Chassman is the executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.