For the first time ever, the U.S. surgeon general has reached out to all of the country's doctors in a letter about the opioid epidemic.
Doctors can expect to receive the “Dear Colleague” letter in the next few days from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, according to a report by CNN. Murthy writes in the letter that when he travels across the country he often sees communities devastated by opioid overdoses and families too ashamed to seek treatment for addiction. Since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled and opioid prescriptions have increased enough to put a bottle of pills in the hands of almost every adult in the country, he says.
Nearly two million Americans have a prescription opioid use disorder, he says. While doctors have played a role, “it is important to recognize that we arrived at this place on a path paved with good intentions,” Murthy writes.
Today’s crisis got its start almost two decades ago, when doctors were encouraged to be aggressive about treating pain, but often without enough training and support to so safely, he says. At the same time, opioid painkillers were heavily marketed to doctors and many physicians were incorrectly taught that opioids were not addictive when prescribed for pain. Yet, Murthy told CNN, many doctors still don’t realize how addictive the drugs can be and many aren’t aware of how bad the problem is.
Murthy urges physicians, as well as nurse practitioners and dentists who also received the letter, to take a pledge to reverse the tide on the opioid crisis at www.TurnTheTideRx.org. The letter will also include a pocket card with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s opioid prescribing guidelines that push doctors to use non-medication alternatives to pain relief.