The Patient Safety Subcommittee requested a review of the science and policy issues regarding the rapidly emerging public health epidemic of prescription opioid-related morbidity and mortality in the United States. Over 100,000 persons have died, directly or indirectly, from prescribed opioids in the United States since policies changed in the late 1990s. In the highest-risk group (age 35-54 years), these deaths have exceeded mortality from both firearms and motor vehicle accidents. Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction. The objectives of the article are to review the following: (1) the key initiating causes of the epidemic; (2) the evidence for safety and effectiveness of opioids for chronic pain; (3) federal and state policy responses; and (4) recommendations for neurologists in practice to increase use of best practices/universal precautions most likely to improve effective and safe use of opioids and to reduce the likelihood of severe adverse and overdose events.
© 2014 American Academy of Neurology.