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HomeHealth & FitnessUSC Researchers Suggest a Quick Fix for America’s Opioid Epidemic

USC Researchers Suggest a Quick Fix for America’s Opioid Epidemic

The overdose epidemic in America is a complex issue, costing 100,000 lives annually and reversing progress in life expectancy. However, researchers at the University of Southern California have discovered that a low-cost intervention, a notification letter to providers about their patient’s overdose death, can make a difference.

Study led by researchers with <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

&lt;span class=&quot;st&quot;&gt;Founded in 1880, the &lt;em&gt;University of Southern California&lt;/em&gt; is one of the world's leading private research universities. It is located in the heart of Los Angeles.&lt;/span&gt;

” data-gt-translate-attributes='[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]’>USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and USC Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics shows notifying doctors when their patients fatally overdose has a long-lasting impact on reducing opioid prescriptions.

There are no simple solutions to America’s deadly overdose epidemic, which costs 100,000 lives each year and is erasing gains in life expectancy. But a team of researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) has found one low-cost intervention can make a difference: a letter notifying providers their patient has died from an overdose.

A 2018 study by the team found that notifying clinicians through an informational letter from their county’s medical examiner that a patient had suffered a fatal overdose reduced the number of opioid prescriptions they wrote over the next three months. The team’s new study, published today (January 6, 2023) in <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

JAMA Network Open
&lt;em&gt;JAMA Network Open&lt;/em&gt; is a monthly, open-access medical journal focused on all areas of the biomedical sciences. It was launched in 2018, with Fred Rivara serving as its founding editor-in-chief. The journal is published by the American Medical Association.

” data-gt-translate-attributes='[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]’>JAMA Network Open, shows those notifications have a lasting impact up to a year later.

“Clinicians don’t necessarily know a patient they prescribed opioids to has suffered a fatal overdose,” said lead author Jason Doctor, Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and Co-Director of the Behavioral Sciences Program at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics. “We knew closing this information loop immediately reduced opioid prescriptions. Our latest study shows that change in prescribing behavior seems to stick.”

A simple public health intervention with a lasting impact

Doctor and his team sent letters to 809 clinicians—predominantly medical doctors—who had prescribed opioids to 166 people who had suffered fatal overdoses in San Diego County. The letter was intended to be informative and respectful in tone while providing information about safer prescribing. The researchers compared prescribing patterns among these clinicians to those who had not received the letter.

While there was a gradual reduction in opioid prescribing across the board, study authors found the rate of the reduction was faster and more robust among those who received the letter. After one year, those who received the letter wrote 7% fewer prescriptions than clinicians who hadn’t received the notification.

“The new study shows this change is not just a temporary blip and then clinicians went back to their previous prescribing,” said Doctor. “This low-cost intervention has a long-lasting impact.”

Doctor acknowledged that attention to the number of deaths from drugs prescribed by clinicians has been eclipsed by the focus on rising deaths from illicit opioid use, particularly during the <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

First identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, COVID-19, or Coronavirus disease 2019, (which was originally called &quot;2019 novel coronavirus&quot; or 2019-nCoV) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It has spread globally, resulting in the 2019–22 coronavirus pandemic.

” data-gt-translate-attributes='[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]’>COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sad truth is, we never addressed the first problem of deaths from prescribed opioids. In fact, it’s all mixed together because nationally, approximately half of people who die of an illicit <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

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&lt;div class=&quot;markdown prose w-full break-words dark:prose-invert light&quot;&gt;&lt;br /&gt;Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is used to treat severe pain, such as pain from cancer or surgery, and is typically administered via injection or transdermal patch. Fentanyl can also be used recreationally, and its use has been linked to a significant increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years. Due to its high potency, fentanyl can be dangerous even in small doses, and its use should be closely monitored by a healthcare provider.&lt;br /&gt;&lt;/div&gt;

” data-gt-translate-attributes='[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]’>fentanyl drug overdose have also had an opioid prescription within the past year,” he explained.

Medical examiners are uniquely positioned to mitigate future opioid overdose deaths

The big takeaway, said Doctor, is the letters from the medical examiner provide a unique opportunity to get into communication with physicians in the wake of overdose deaths to save lives from both legal and illegal opioids.

“The letter is a nudge to providers that the opioid epidemic is in their community and affecting their patients. It is easy to read the headlines and assume you are not part of the problem,” said Doctor. “Doctors have an opportunity to talk to their patients and consider alternatives to opioids. I believe we can reach about half of the people in the illicit fentanyl epidemic through a doctor who has seen them.”

Doctor and other study authors are currently partnering with Los Angeles County on lessons from the research and looking at potential public policy interventions, including mandating such notifications from county medical examiners to clinicians.

Reference: “Effect of prescriber notifications of patient’s fatal overdose on opioid prescribing at 4 to 12 months” by Jason N. Doctor, PhD; Emily Stewart, MPH; Roneet Lev, MD; Jonathan Lucas, MD; Tara Knight, PhD; Andy Nguyen, PhD and Michael Menchine, MD, 6 January 2023, JAMA Network Open.
DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.49877

Additional study authors include Emily Stewart and Tara Knight of the USC Schaeffer Center; Roneet Lev of the Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego; Jonathan Lucas of the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner of the County of Los Angeles; Andy Nguyen of Global Blood Therapeutics, South San Francisco; and Michael Menchine of the Department of Emergency Medicine at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is a public land-grant research university in Los Angeles, California. It is organized into the College of Letters and Science and 12 professional schools. It is considered one of the country's Public Ivies, and is frequently ranked among the best universities in the world by major college and university rankings.

” data-gt-translate-attributes='[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]’>UCLA. The work was supported by the California Health Care Foundation (grant 19413) to Doctor, Stewart and Knight; the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (grants R21-AG057395-01 and R33-AG057395 to Knight); National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA046226) and the NIA Roybal Center for Behavioral Interventions (P30AG024968 to Knight).



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