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Researchers and health policy leaders from UK discussed how to combat drug abuse during this year's National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.

UK brings expertise to national summit on opioid drug crisis

Addiction researchers, clinicians, intervention coordinators and health policy leaders from UK and UK HealthCare are taking part in a national conversation this week focused on combating the opioid drug crisis.

The National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, taking place April 17-20 in Atlanta, is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state and federal agencies, business, academia, treatment providers, and allied communities impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use. It was introduced in 2012 under the leadership of Operation UNITE and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th) with the purpose of alleviating the burden of illegal substance abuse through comprehensive approaches. In this regard, UK leads the way.

Last year alone, investigators in the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research received $9.6 million for projects dedicated to substance abuse and addiction. Since 2010, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded more than $92 million to UK research projects. UK HealthCare is proud to support the summit through sponsorship.

“UK is uniquely positioned to confront these questions because of its multidisciplinary research endeavors, leading academic medical center and regional referral network deployed to confront the scourge of opioids. We’re committed to working in – and with – communities to help navigate the complex nature of critical policy changes and effective healthcare implementation,” UK President Eli Capilouto said.

Kentucky’s rate of opioid overdose death remains above the national average, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 1,273 Kentucky overdose deaths in 2015.

“The opioid epidemic is far-reaching and multifaceted, leaving a void in each family and community it scars,” Capilouto said. “Kentucky families and communities throughout Appalachia know the devastation and havoc of addiction. That’s why this question is critical to UK researchers who lead the research, healthcare and policy questions surrounding opioid abuse.”


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UK researcher Hefei Wen has authored a study showing state drug-monitoring programs can reduce the number of opioids prescribed to Medicaid recipients.

Monitoring programs can help address opioid epidemic, UK research shows

New research from the UK College of Public Health suggests state drug-monitoring programs are effective in reducing the number of opioids prescribed to Medicaid recipients.

Led by researcher Hefei Wen, the study shows that state requirements for healthcare providers to participate in prescription-drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs, have influenced safer prescribing practices for Medicaid patients. Published in the April edition of Health Affairs, the research suggests state PDMP mandates are linked with reduced opioid prescriptions received by Medicaid patients as well as Medicaid spending on opioid prescriptions by as much as 10 percent.

The analysis done by Wen and her team showed state mandatory registration or use of a PDMP reduced Schedule II opioid prescriptions and spending by 9 to 10 percent between 2011 and 2014. The results suggest programs like these are effective in promoting safer and more contained prescribing of opioids with high potential for abuse and dependence. These implications support PDMP mandates as effective in addressing the opioid epidemic.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have PDMPs in place to help providers identify patients at high risk of misusing or abusing controlled substances. However, the average registration rate across the states is low, and most registered prescribers do not use PDMPs on a consistent basis.

An increasing number of states that have implemented mandates that require providers to register with the monitoring programs and to use program data when prescribing opioids and other controlled substances. For instance, in 2012, legislators in Kentucky passed one of the most comprehensive mandates.

The Kentucky mandate requires prescribers to register with the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System (KASPER). Then, they must query the KASPER system for all first-time prescriptions and a minimum of every 12 months after the first prescription. Similarly strong mandates can help improve participation in PDMPs and fulfill their potential in addressing the opioid epidemic.

Wen is an assistant professor in health management and policy in the UK College of Public Health. Her research leverages economic thinking to inform health care and public safety, with a concentration on behavioral health and drug control policy.


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Physical therapy

Physical therapy often better than opioids for long-term pain management

Written by Tony English, PT, PhD, director of the Division of Physical Therapy at the University of Kentucky‘s College of Health Sciences.  

Tony English

Tony English

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sales of prescription opioids have quadrupled in the U.S. since 1999, even though there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain reported.

People with chronic pain conditions unrelated to cancer often depend on prescription opioids to manage their pain. As opioid use has increased, so has the misuse, abuse and overdose of these drugs in Kentucky and across the country.

The statistics are sobering:

  • As many as one in four people who receive prescription opioids long term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings suffer with addiction.
  • Heroin-related overdose deaths more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2014, and people addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.
  • More than 165,000 people in the United States have died from opioid pain-medication-related overdoses since 1999.
  • Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.

The CDC released guidelines in March urging prescribers to reduce the use of opioids in favor of safer alternatives in the treatment of chronic pain. Physical therapy is one of the recommended non-opioid alternatives.

If you or someone you know has pain not related to cancer, consider physical therapy as a safer alternative for managing your pain. Physical therapists diagnose and treat movement disorders that may be contributing to your pain and will develop an active treatment plan specific to your goals.

A 2008 study following 20,000 people over a period of 11 years found that people who exercised regularly reported less pain. Manual therapy can reduce pain and improve mobility so that people have more pain-free movement. That, in turn, promotes more activity, which reduces pain even further. Exercise and manual therapy are two components of an active treatment plan that may be used by a physical therapist to help manage pain.

The American Physical Therapy Association has launched a national campaign called #ChoosePT to raise awareness about the risks of opioids and the choice of physical therapy as a safe alternative for long-term pain management.


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