Surgeon general asks physicians to lead way in fighting opioid epidemic

Troy Parks
Staff Writer
AMA Wire
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Check your mailbox over the next two weeks—there should be a letter from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, calling on all physicians throughout the nation to raise awareness and further efforts to end the opioid overdose epidemic.

Physicians are in a unique position of leadership when it comes to this epidemic—they are on the front lines witnessing the impact every day from emergency department overdoses to substance use disorder treatment. The letter asks directly for physicians’ help to solve and bring an end to the opioid overdose epidemic.

“We will educate ourselves to treat pain safely and effectively,” Dr. Murthy said in the letter, suggesting physicians examine the many resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“We will screen our patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence based treatment,” he said. “We can shape how the rest of the country sees addiction by talking about and treating it as a chronic illness, not a moral failing.”

Awareness can make a difference

This style of raising awareness has worked before. In 1988, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, sent a seven-page brochure, “Understanding AIDS,” to all 107 million households in the country. The mailing raised awareness that the AIDS epidemic affected every one and not just a small group of Americans. The opioid epidemic the country now faces similarly affects those of all ages, races and economic status.

Dr. Murthy earlier this month launched, where physicians can take a pledge and make a commitment to end the opioid crisis.

“Years from now, I want us to look back and know that, in the face of a crisis that threatened our nation, it was our profession that stepped up and led the way,” he said in the letter.

Physician efforts already underway

Steven J. Stack, MD, AMA immediate-past president, in May issued an open letter to America’s physicians calling on them to re-examine prescribing practices and help reverse the epidemic. “We must accept and embrace our professional responsibility to treat our patients’ pain without worsening the current crisis,” he said.

The AMA Task Force to Reduce Prescription Opioid Abuse has been working to raise awareness of the crisis for almost two years. The task force put forth recommendations for physicians to register for and use state prescription drug monitoring programs, educate themselves on pain management and safe prescribing, support increased access to naloxone, reduce the stigma of substance use disorder and enhance access to comprehensive treatment.

For more on what physicians can do


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I have received the letter in the mail from the Surgeon General. My first reaction was outrage. And amusement. Most doctors are well aware that opiates are addictive and over the long term pose more problem than the patient had to begin with. Same goes for benzodiazepines. What is the major driving force In creating this epidemic ( and make no mistake, there is also an epidemic of benzodiazepine dependence) is the patient satisfaction surveys. Medicine became a customer service business and doctors are forced to make the patient happy, regardless of the damage that it may cause or face retaliation because their satisfaction surveys are poor. There are studies that clearly show that the most satisfied patients have the highest cost of care and the worst health outcomes. But it does not matter as long as the clinic and hospitals can boast about their high satisfaction surveys. Worse yet is that the well fair of the hospital and the doctor also depends on the patient satisfaction. So essentially we are forced to be the over educated drug dealers or be punished financially, denied promotions and partnerships, or being forced out of the clinic completely. The healthcare industry and the government need to stop bullying doctors and let us practice medicine in an intelligent and safe manner. Not doing so creates the epidemic that the Surgeon General is now asking us to solve.
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