Calif. group working to reduce Rx overdoses

January 5, 2015

Several state agencies here are combining resources to create strategies to prevent deaths and injuries from prescription-painkiller overdoses.

Several state agencies in California are combining resources to create strategies to prevent deaths and injuries from prescription-painkiller overdoses.

California officials have formed the Prescription Opioid Misuse and Overdose Prevention Workgroup to alert healthcare providers, pharmacists, and the public of the overdose epidemic.

“Drug overdose brings to mind illegal street drugs, like heroin, but many deaths due to drug abuse are from the misuse of the legal prescription drugs that many people find in their medicine cabinets,” said Ron Chapman, state health officers and director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

In 2012, there were more than 41,000 deaths in this country due to drug overdoses. More than half of those involved prescription drugs, and oxycodone, methadone, or hydrocodone were involved in nearly 75% of the pharmaceutical-related overdoses. In California, drug overdoses involving prescription painkillers have increased 16% since 2006, with more than 1,800 deaths in 2012. 

One of the group’s goals is to provide information about the state’s revised guidelines for prescribing painkillers. Since 2007, the number of patients in California being treated for opioid abuse has nearly doubled. “We want to provide tools that will lead to better discussions between providers, pharmacists, and their patients,” said Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the Medical Board of California. “The board’s new guidelines will assist in this endeavor.” 

In addition to CDPH officials, the workgroup also includes officials from the California State Board of Pharmacy, the Medical Board of California, the Dental Board of California, the Emergency Medical Services Authority, and the state departments of healthcare services, education, justice, and consumer affairs.

“Treating pain is complicated and prescription drugs do have an appropriate use,” Chapman said. “Healthcare providers and their patients should discuss the benefits and risks of prescription pain medications, and consider all treatment options.”