The opioid crisis is a hot topic in both mainstream and pain management news, which is not surprising considering the dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths in recent years. One study published in the JAMA Network Open found that U.S. deaths attributable to opioids increased 292 percent between 2001 and 2016.1 This same study reported that in 2016, 20 percent of the deaths of adults ages 24-35 involved opioids.
Growing awareness of the opioid crisis has prompted medical professionals to generate potential solutions, primarily by coming up with alternatives for pain management. These four stories highlight the various ways the medical industry is responding to the crisis through innovation, cooperation, and new policies.
1. Medical Disruptors in 2019: Pharmacogenomics
Finding solutions to the opioid crisis is listed by Medical Design & Outsourcing as the No. 1 medical disruptor for 2019 based on predictions by the Cleveland Clinic.2 Finding alternative therapies is a top priority, and doctors and researchers are exploring various options that do not involve medication. These include approaches such as:
- Electrical stimulation therapy
- Stress management
However, when pain medication is unavoidable, pharmacogenomics can help determine how patients may respond to specific drugs, making it easier to tailor their treatment options. The Cleveland Clinic predicts that the emergence of pharmacogenomics and precision medicine will be supported by increased access to genetic testing for patients. In addition to non-drug alternatives, this approach could be used for more targeted pain management to help address the opioid crisis.
2. Development of New Pain Management Devices
According to another Medical Design & Outsourcing article, a key solution to the opioid crisis is providing pain management alternatives.3 This includes medical devices and other existing technologies such as medication management devices, pill dispensers, diagnostic tests for assessing addiction risk, and overdose prevention technologies.The medical device industry has the opportunity to play a leadership role in overcoming the opioid crisis. New technologies are always in development, but these five are already being used to treat pain:
- Cryoablation and cryotherapy to stop pain signals from traveling to the brain
- Neurostimulation to interrupt the transmission of pain signals to the brain
- Pulsed electromagnetic therapy to induce natural opioids in the body
- A non-opioid pain-relief pump for automated post-surgical local anesthetic
- Bedside pain management to automatically dispense oral medications in predetermined dosages
Although many of these new approaches have already been developed, they are not always as accessible as pain medication or might not be covered by insurance. In order for devices and other technologies to be adopted universally, they need to be made more available to medical professionals.
3. Pain Management Professionals Come Together
A panel at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West will be addressing how medtech can address the opioid crisis.4 Two significant problems that contribute to the crisis are uncontrolled pain and addiction. One strategy championed by panel member Dr. Peter Staats is to better address pain management before opioids are prescribed. Medical device technologies such as neuromodulation could help treat chronic pain and prevent or alleviate dependency on opioids. The concept of using other pain management options before prescribing opioids could help address pain while protecting patients from addiction.
However, in addition to new technologies for treating pain, medical professionals must also address addiction and withdrawal, providing strategies for patients to safely and successfully stop using opioids. This requires compassion, patience, and a commitment to recognizing and treating addiction in patients.
4. New Standards for Pain Management
In response to the opioid crisis, the Joint Commission has released new pain management standards that will take effect on July 1, 2019.5 In an effort to reduce the incidence of overprescribing opioids, U.S. healthcare facilities will be subject to new requirements, including:
- Providing access to prescription drug monitoring program databases
- Developing pain treatment strategies that include non-pharmacologic approaches
- Assessing and documenting a patient’s response to pain management programs, side effects, and risk factors
Although medical professionals are the first line of defense in addressing the opioid crisis, they are not the only stakeholders who can play a role. Health insurance providers are also participating in crisis mitigation by monitoring databases for overprescription.
Stay Updated on Pain Management
Medical professionals must stay on top of new developments that can help alleviate the opioid crisis while still giving patients the pain management tools they need. Devices that help naturally relieve pain and other new technologies are strong options for patients who prefer to avoid opioids or are at risk of addiction.
To keep seeing the latest in pain management and orthopedic news,
subscribe to the Game Ready blog.
- The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States. Jama Network. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2682878. Published June 1, 2018.
- The top 10 medical disruptors of 2019. Medical Design and Outsourcing. https://www.medicaldesignandoutsourcing.com/top-10-medical-disruptors-2019/11/. Published October 26, 2018.
- How medtech could stop the drug overdose crisis in the U.S. Medical Design and Outsourcing. https://www.medicaldesignandoutsourcing.com/medtech-stop-drug-overdose-crisis-u-s/. Published January 11, 2018.
- How Can Medtech Help with the Opioid Crisis? Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry. https://www.mddionline.com/how-can-medtech-help-opioid-crisis. Published January 17, 2019.
- Amid Opioid Crisis, The Joint Commission Revises Pain Management Standards. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2019/01/03/amid-opioid-crisis-the-joint-commission-revises-pain-standards-for-health-facilities/#372876945686. Published January 3, 2019.