June 14, 2018

AMA Report Shows National Progress Toward Reversing Opioid Epidemic

Urges further policy changes to remove barriers to care for pain and substance use disorders

RICHMOND, Va. (June 14, 2018) – The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a new report May 31 documenting  how physician leadership is advancing the fight against the opioid epidemic.

The report, which is being released as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force meets for the first time, found a decrease in opioid prescribing and increases in the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), number of physicians trained and certified to treat patients with an opioid use disorder, and in access to naloxone.

“While this progress report shows physician leadership and action to help reverse the epidemic, such progress is tempered by the fact that every day, more than 115 people in the United States die from an opioid-related overdose,” said Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, Chair AMA Opioid Task Force. “What is needed now is a concerted  effort to greatly expand access to high quality care for pain and for substance use disorders. Unless and until we do that, this epidemic will not end.”

“We are pleased to see Virginia-specific solutions reversing the epidemic. The success Virginia has had with the Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) program may serve as a template for other states to combat the cycle of addiction,” said Kurt Elward, MD, MPH, FAAFP, President of the Medical Society of Virginia (MSV). “It is essential to continue efforts to approach the opioid crisis with multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches, including removing barriers to addiction treatment.”

The report found:

  • Opioid prescribing decreases for fifth year in a row. Physicians have decreased opioid prescriptions nationwide for the fifth year in a row. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of opioid prescriptions decreased by more than 55 million — a 22.2 percent decrease nationally. Decreases occurred in every state, including a 28.7 percent decrease here in Virginia. The 2017 Annual Report of Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program reported a 40 percent decrease in pain reliever doses from 2016 to 2017.
  • PMP use continues to increase. In 2017, health care professionals nationwide accessed state PMP databases more than 337.1 million times – a 148 percent increase from 2016. In Virginia, health care professionals accessed state databases more than 18.3 million times in 2017 – a 341 percent increase from 2016.
  • Physicians enhancing their education. In 2017, nearly 550,000 physicians and other health care professionals across the nation took continuing education classes in pain management, substance use disorders and related areas. Many of these resources are offered by the AMA, state medical societies, and specialty societies, and more than 350 of these resources can be found on the AMA opioid microsite, www.end-opioid-epidemic.org. Virginia specific resources, including a quick reference guide to pain management and addiction treatment prescribing regulations, can be found at www.msv.org/opioids.
  • Access to naloxone improving. Naloxone prescriptions more than doubled in 2017, from approximately 3,500 to 8,000 naloxone prescriptions dispensed weekly. So far in 2018, that upward trend has continued; as of April, 11,600 naloxone prescriptions are dispensed weekly - the highest rate on record. Virginia continues to have a standing order for naloxone to improve access.
  • Treatment capacity increasing. As of May this year, there were more than 50,000 physicians certified to provide buprenorphine in office for the treatment of opioid use disorders across all 50 states — a 42.4 percent increase in the past 12 months.

To further address the opioid epidemic, the AMA and the Medical Society of Virginia urges policymakers and insurers to remove barriers to care for pain and substance use disorders. These steps include:

  • All public and private payers should ensure that their formularies include all FDA-approved forms of medication assisted treatment (MAT) and remove administrative barriers to treatment, including prior authorization.
  • Policymakers and regulators should increase oversight and enforcement of parity laws for mental health and substance use disorders to ensure patients receive the care that they need.
  • All public and private payers—as well as pharmacy benefit management companies—must ensure that patients have access to affordable, non-opioid pain care.
  • We can all help put an end to stigma. Patients with pain or substance use disorders deserve the same care and compassion as any other patient with a chronic medical condition.

For Virginia-specific provider resources addressing the opioid epidemic visit http://www.msv.org/opioids.

About the Medical Society of Virginia

The Medical Society of Virginia (MSV) serves as the voice for more than 30,000 physicians, residents, medical students, physician assistants and physician assistant students, representing all medical specialties in all regions of the Commonwealth. The association was founded in 1820 and is headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. MSV strives to advance high-quality health care and make Virginia the best place to receive care and practice medicine.

About the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association is the premier national organization providing timely, essential resources to empower physicians, residents and medical students to succeed at every phase of their medical lives. Physicians have entrusted the AMA to advance the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health on behalf of patients for more than 170 years. For more information, visit amaassn.org.