The Opioid Epidemic Requires a Greater Focus on Education and Awareness

As the country looks to reverse the harmful trend of opioid addiction, the need for education and awareness around the safe use of pain treatments has never been clearer.

In 2016, more than 11 million Americans misused prescription opioids. We know that many individuals who misuse pain medications obtain the prescription drug through a friend or family member. Indeed, recent data points to the prevalence of misuse starting at home — either when opioids are not used as prescribed or when unused medication is obtained by someone other than the patient for whom it is prescribed.

While there is no “silver bullet” solution to turning the tide of this epidemic, consistent education of all parties, from prescribers to patients and their caregivers, is one vital piece of the equation. According to a survey from Kaiser Family Foundation, more than eight in 10 individuals believe provider education, and public education and awareness programs, are at least somewhat effective in the fight against the opioid abuse epidemic.

To help address the urgent need for broader awareness and education, distributors, pharmacies, health care providers and patient organizations are joining together in a new initiative designed to combat further misuse before it occurs. Allied Against Opioid Abuse will strengthen coordination and information sharing across the health care supply chain and patient-care community. Through educational resources and community engagement, we will focus on highlighting a patient’s rights, risks and responsibilities associated with prescription opioids, as well as raising awareness about the importance of informed patient conversations with their providers.

At the core of this effort is the fundamental belief that we all need to actively encourage informed decision-making about pain treatment and underscore the importance of safe storage and disposal of unused medication. Patients have the right to talk to their health care provider about alternative pain treatments and should be encouraged to discuss any history of addiction that may make opioids a riskier choice. The patient, their provider and pharmacist should also discuss the responsibility to properly store and safely dispose of unused prescriptions.

AAOA will provide health care professionals on the front lines of the epidemic — providers and pharmacists — with resources to facilitate conversations and educate patients, not only about risks and side-effects, but also about options they may have regarding how the drug is dispensed, and how to dispose of unused medication.

For example, in many states patients (and providers) can request that a pharmacist only partially fill an opioid prescription — often enough for a three-day supply. If the full prescription is needed, then the patient can pick up the remaining dose. Requesting a partial fill can reduce the prevalence of unused opioids in the home, which can in turn, help reduce the abuse of these unused medicines.

AAOA has tools and resources to help facilitate these kinds of discussion. A key focus of our efforts will include meeting with local partners and working together on educational programs that are designed to meet the specific health needs of the population — whether that’s a training on safe storage and disposal at a pharmacy in Florida or a roundtable discussion with business leaders in Connecticut.

Our hope is that these combined efforts generate a new type of conversation that extends beyond the exam room and the pharmacy counter — one that will have a meaningful impact on providers and pharmacists as well as patients, their family and friends.

Now is the time to make sure we all know our rights and responsibilities and make decisions that are in the best interests of our health and the health of others. Our coalition partners are standing together to make sure education about safe use, storage and disposal of prescription opioids is part of the national conversation.


John M. Gray is president and CEO of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a national trade association representing pharmaceutical distributors. James F. Cawley is president of the PA Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that provides philanthropic opportunities for physician assistants and physician assistant students. Both HDA and the PA Foundation are founding members of Allied Against Opioid Abuse.

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