Will an increasing pressure on prescribers curb the rising opioid overdose rates?
With only 0.5% of patients prescribed opioids reportedly developing addictions, there must be something else going on that’s making people overdose. A mismatch. Research on this topic is messy and patchy–– simply put, the large correlational research and incidence studies of addiction do not match up. In a recent commentary, we outline how prescription opioids might indirectly influence the rising overdose and addiction rates.
Mismatch: Why Correlation and Incidence Might Not Match Up
First, diversion gets medically prescribed opioids (MPOs) to those who are not prescribed the medication. Diverted MPOs can be sold, gifted (mostly to family members or friends), stolen, or sometimes obtained through “doctor shopping”, where patients get the same prescription from multiple physicians. But we don’t know how much diversion is due to sold, gifted or stolen medicines. How much do the different diversion types contribute to addiction and overdose? And for that matter, how much is diversion occurring, and to what extent is it contributing to national opioid crises?
Second, because overdose is often preceded by addiction, many researchers have focused on the persons who develop an addiction when prescribed opioids. However, if addiction doesn’t come before overdose, some high-risk patients go unstudied, and thus unreported. This has been shown in some states, such as West Virginia, where prescription opioids contributed to 93% of overdose deaths and very few of the deceased had iatrogenic addiction. So, some people might be at risk of sudden overdose but are missed in research studies that focus on medical diagnoses of addiction. This gap in the research is likely due the difficulty of studying overdose risk without the presence of addiction.
Polydrug use and overdose
Third, polydrug use may lead to overdose in people who use prescription opioids but do not specifically have addiction to their MPO. Here benzodiazepines are a big issue. It is important to note that many studies of addiction to MPOs do account for polydrug use by incorporating urine drug screens; however, positive results are often lumped together with other “aberrant” behaviours such as failed pill counts or requesting opioids from multiple doctors. Ultimately, we can’t tell how much polydrug use is really leading to addiction or overdose in this context.
Finally, it is possible that incidence studies to date could be misrepresenting the true risk of addiction to MPOs. Studies of OUD incidence in pain care use definitions of addiction that range from very broad to highly specific, mixing up terms like “dependence”, “abuse”, “misuse”, or “problematic use”. This could make it so our guesses about the risk of addiction to MPOs are muddled, leading to skewed results.
We need to understand better if reduced opioid prescriptions can reduce the opioid crisis. Then we can make the change happen.
To read the whole commentary, please visit the journal website www.canadianjournalofaddiction.org or lookup the paper using the following citation:
Gorfinkel, L., Wood, E., Klimas, J. (In Press) Prescription opioids, opioid use disorder, and Overdose Crisis: Current Dilemmas and Remaining Questions. (Published ahead of Print, June 4th) Canadian Journal on Addiction
I thank Lauren Gorfinkel for feedback on this post.
If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also like my poem about pain. See link below:
We wanted to find out whether continued use of drugs or alcohol impedes addiction treatment with methadone. We looked at the dose and things that make people stop treatment.
How was the study done?
Between 2005 and 2015, we talked to 823 people receiving methadone who said they used alcohol at least once. We asked about their experiences with interrupting methadone treatment and their drug use.
The VIDUS study involves people who use illicit drugs. The ACCESS study involves people living with HIV who use illicit drugs, mostly living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Researchers work with participants to look at how social, economic, physical, policy, and individual factors impact the health and well-being of HIV-positive illicit drug users. All participants do an interviewer-administered survey, and a clinic visit with a study nurse, every 6 months. (text taken from: http://www.bccsu.ca/access/ and http://www.bccsu.ca/vidus/)
What did the study find?
48% said they had stopped methadone treatment. Those who were homeless, or injected heroin daily, were more likely to stop methadone treatment. Those who also received other addiction treatment, received doses of at least 60 ml of methadone, or had Hepatitis C, were less likely to stop methadone treatment.
Heavy alcohol use was not linked to treatment discontinuation.
Why is continuous methadone treatment useful?
People who enroll in methadone treatment may continue to use illicit drugs and alcohol. There is a need to understand how to manage continuous drug use while receiving methadone treatment. Receiving therapeutic doses of methadone and also additional addiction treatment may reduce treatment interruption.
Study: Klimas, J., Nosova, E., Socías, E., Nolan, S., Brar, R., Hayashi, K., Milloy, M., Kerr, T., Wood, E. (2018) Factors associated with discontinuation of methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) among persons who also use alcohol in Vancouver, Canada. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, May 1, Volume 186, Pages 182–186
Read about other similar research here.
Youth opioid addiction, and related harms continue to rise in North America. With an increasing number of opioid overdoses, there remain significant barriers to care for youth with addiction. The time for evidence-based treatment of youth opioid addiction is now.
Based on the extensive literature on treatment of opioid use disorder among adults, medicated-assisted treatment is likely to be an important or even essential component of treatment of opioid use disorder for most youth. This post summarises a recent article in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, where we outline the current dilemmas and questions regarding the use of medication-assisted treatment for youth opioid addiction and propose some potential solutions based on the current evidence.
The prevalence of risky opioid use, opioid use disorder, and related harms continue to rise among youth in North America (age 15–25). These growing harms point to an urgent need to expand and scale-up early access to evidence-based treatments for youth opioid addiction. Treatment of youth opioid addiction may be different than treatment of adults because neurodevelopment of brain regions, associated with motivation and impulsivity, happens mainly during adolescence and young adulthood.
Strategies that reduce barriers to treatment commonly experienced by youth and that address clinical care dilemmas when treating youth opioid addiction are urgently needed.
Medications for youth opioid addiction
The American Academy of Paediatrics recently supported buprenorphine/naloxone and methadone for youth opioid addiction. Although research has shown their effectiveness in adults, only a few studies did so among youth.
Based on the strong evidence in the adults and available evidence to date among youth, first-line OAT for youth should be buprenorphine/naloxone, with methadone as an alternative treatment option when buprenorphine/naloxone cannot be used.
Minimum age requirement needs re-evaluation
The literature still disagrees regarding the minimal age requirement to prescribe OAT. For instance, buprenorphine/naloxone is currently approved for opioid addiction at age 16 in the United States and at age 18 in Canada. But the U.S. youth has to fail addiction treatment twice before they can be prescribed methadone under the age of 18. Also, treatment with medications has been prescribed to 10 times more adults than youth although it’s the first line of treatment in many guidelines. This underscores the urgent need to improve medication-assisted treatment access for youth. We still need safety data regarding use of OAT among youth. But the pros are likely to outweigh the cons given the lethality and multiple harms associated with opioid addiction.
Longer tapers are more effective than shorter tapers
How long should be the successful tapers and how to do them effectively? These questions are still unanswered by scientific literature. Studies to date have shown that longer tapers are more effective to reduce opioid use and prevent relapse For this reason, our provincial guidelines in British Columbia, Canada, recommend that tapers for adults, if undertaken, “occur over a minimum 52 weeks duration and with close monitoring during and after the taper given overdose risk is increased.”
Naltrexone injectable versus implantable
Opioid antagonists, such as Naltrexone, have not been evaluated widely among youth. Oral Naltrexone has many problems, such as low compliance, increased risk for relapse and overdose. The researchers should compare methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone with extended-release injectable or implantable naltrexone in youth. This information will help clinicians select the best treatment for youth opioid addiction.
Psychosocial interventions: retention on OAT remains a challenge
Psychosocial interventions are common for treating youth opioid addiction, but are done in a way that is not supported by science. For example, they consist of short-term detox with a referral to individual or group therapy in rehab or outpatient settings. Youth drop out from such treatment frequently. But retention on OAT remains a challenge. For example, one study found that only “56% of youth aged 18–25 years were retained on buprenorphine at 6 months, compared with a 78% of people aged 26 years or more.” OAT seems more efficacious in retaining youth in treatment. Psychosocial intervention is better done in combination with pharmacologic treatment. We need more trials involving youth.
The Prescription Opioid Addiction Treatment Study – POATS
The Prescription Opioid Addiction Treatment Study (POATS) showed that tapering off buprenorphine/naloxone (even after 12 weeks of treatment), was associated with a 90% relapse rate. Ongoing counselling did not make a difference. Based on the adult POATs study, it seems that keeping people on buprenorphine/naloxone is better than tapering them without supports. Psychosocial interventions may help people receiving OAT. Many studies found contingency management helpful. Researchers should do more studies on contigency management.
When in doubt, do not taper
Based on the above, we need more research to better understand optimal treatment approaches for OPIOID ADDICTION in youth. Based on the current evidence, buprenorphine/naloxone appears to be a safe and efficacious option for youth and we propose this should be first-line treatment for OPIOID ADDICTION. More studies comparing OAT and extended-release naltrexone are needed in this population. When treatment is initiated, longer duration (>52 weeks) of OAT is recommended. Decision to taper should be governed by the principle “when in doubt, do not taper” while taking into account the potential risks of relapse and overdose as well as access to chronic relapse prevention care; close monitoring is essential during and after the taper completion. We suggest psychosocial interventions be routinely offered in combination with OAT. Lastly, given the efficacy of OAT, we recommend these medications be provided based on the risk and benefit assessment of each case, regardless of age.
Cited study: Derek C. Chang, Jan Klimas, Evan Wood & Nadia Fairbairn. (In Press) Medication-assisted treatment for youth with opioid use disorder: Current dilemmas and remaining questions. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Vol. 0 , Iss. 0,0
Why clinician-scientist matters
Source: Klimas, J., McNeil, R., Small, W., Cullen, W. Clinician-Scientist Training in Addiction Medicine: A Novel Programme in a Canadian Setting. Academic Medicine 92(10):1367, October 2017.
Addiction training is feasible and acceptable for doctors and junior physicians; however, important barriers persist. We need to learn more about the experience of addiction physicians in the fellowship training programs. Here are the 6 ways to help improve the training.
6 ways to better training
Recently, new programmes have emerged to train the comprehensive addiction medicine professionals internationally and one of them is in Vancouver, Canada. We interviewed 26 persons who completed this training programme. They were psychiatrists, internal medicine and family medicine physicians, faculty, mentors, medical students and residents. All received both addiction medicine and research training. We found six barriers and enablers of training implementation: (1) organisations, (2) structures, (3) teachers, (4) learners, (5) patients and (6) community. Human resources, a variety of rotations, peer support and mentoring fostered implementation of addiction training. Money, time as well as space limitations hindered implementation.
Why training clinicians in addictions
Addiction care is usually provided by unskilled lay-persons in most countries and thus the resulting care inadequate. Effective treatments are overlooked and millions of people suffer despite recent discovery of new treatments for substance use disorders. In rare instances when addiction care is provided by medical professionals, they are not adequately trained in caring for people with substance use disorders; therefore, feel unprepared to provide such care. Physician scientists are the bridge between science and practice. Despite large evidence-base upon which to base clinical practice, most health systems have not combined training of healthcare providers in addiction medicine and research.
Klimas, J., Small, W., Ahamad, K., Mead, A., Rieb, L., Cullen, W., Wood, E., McNeil, R. (2017) Barriers and Facilitators to Implementing Addiction Medicine Fellowships: A Qualitative Study with Fellows, Medical Students, Residents and Preceptors. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 12:21