Every day, there is another tragic story about the opioid crisis in Virginia. Our friends, family, neighbors, patients and communities are suffering; we are in the throes of a true public health emergency. In 2015, more than 850 people died in Virginia due to overdose.
Many across the state and the country are asking the important question – how did we get here? The answer is not simple, but is important to understand in order to move forward.
A HISTORY OF PAIN
About 20 years ago, pain became known as the “fifth” vital sign, making it as important as a patient’s pulse, blood pressure, respiration, and temperature. Many physicians and other health care providers were taught to eliminate pain to promote healing. (Read More: History of Pain Assessment)
At the same time, several opioid manufacturers began promoting prescription opioid painkillers as a safe, non-addictive compassionate solution to treat patients’ pain. These medications were often covered by commercial health plans, when alternatives were not.
“By the late 1990s, DeWine's suit says, each of the five companies had embarked on a persuasion scheme targeting doctors, whom the state positions as victims of systematic misinformation…” (Read More: Ohio Sues 5 Major Drug Companies For 'Fueling Opioid Epidemic')
In 2007, Purdue Pharma settled a lawsuit with states and paid $630 million in fines for their role in the addiction crisis. Virginia used its $60 million share to pay for the Commonwealth’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), along with other tools to combat the epidemic.
ADVOCACY IMPACTING CHANGE
Recognizing that physicians must play an integral role in solving the addiction crisis, MSV worked tirelessly with many stakeholders across the Commonwealth to advocate for change. Successes include:
The healthcare community must come together to develop the next generation of pain management techniques. (Read more: UVA Slashes Opioid Use While Treating Patients’ Pain) In addition, we must also reframe our expectations for pain treatment and work with patients to better understand the benefits and limitations treatment may have.
While Virginia has made tremendous progress, MSV continues to plan for future efforts to address the Commonwealth’s addiction epidemic. We must advocate for treatment options for any Virginian struggling with addiction as well as improve insurance coverage for non-opioid pain medications, physical therapy, and other treatments. (Get involved! Join MSV advocacy efforts)