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Getting the Lowdown on Opioids

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 07, 2016
Updated: Friday, October 07, 2016

The nation’s opioid crisis was a hot topic at the 2016 NPSF Patient Safety Congress.

by Patricia McTiernan, MS


A recent survey conducted by the National Patient Safety Foundation showed gaps in health professionals’ knowledge regarding use of opioid painkillers. Only two-thirds of respondents were familiar with the Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert on the Safe Use of Opioids in Hospitals, for example, and only 14% were familiar with the National Action Plan for Adverse Drug Event Prevention.


It may come as no surprise, then, that one of the most well-attended breakout sessions at the NPSF Patient Safety Congress in May focused on “DEA Drug Trends.” Thomas Prevoznik, liaison unit chief for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, addressed some of the current questions health professionals have about what they can do to mitigate unintended harm from opioids.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid prescription painkillers led to more than 19,000 overdose deaths in 2014. Moreover, the DEA reports that 8 out of 10 new heroin users began by abusing prescription painkillers.


At the NPSF Congress, attendees were most interested in learning about proper disposal of unused or unwanted pharmaceuticals and how the DEA and health care professionals can work together to combat the opioid epidemic to ensure public health and safety.


The DEA is in the process of conducting Pharmacy Diversion Awareness Conferences at the state level to educate health professionals about tactics they can use to minimize unintended outcomes. These events include speakers from the state’s pharmacy board, the police, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the DEA.


  Thomas Prevoznik

Thomas Prevoznik speaking at the 2016  

NPSF Patient Safety Congress

Mr. Prevoznik says the events offer an opportunity to provide practical tactics to pharmacists and clinicians, for example:


  • Asking patients if they have a place to keep the prescription opioid painkillers under lock and key.
  • Asking clinicians to be more aware of the opioid epidemic and more conscious of the unintended effects of overprescribing.

Disposing of unused medications is another effort under way. Twice each year, the DEA, in collaboration with state and local law enforcement, sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an opportunity for people to clean out their medicine cabinets and safely dispose of unused medication. The last event was held in late April of this year, yielding almost 900,000 pounds of drugs—the highest amount collected since these events began in 2010.


“People are getting the message that they don’t need to save that just-in-case bottle,” Mr. Prevoznik says. “It’s better to get rid of it.”


The next Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is scheduled for October 22. Get details at


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About the Author: Patricia McTiernan, MS is assistant vice president for communications at the National Patient Safety Foundation and editor of the P.S. Blog. Contact her at



Tags:  2016 NPSF Congress  opioids 

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Thomas Syzek says...
Posted Thursday, October 20, 2016
In my 33+ years clinical experience, the key to solving overprescribing particularly in emergency departments will be to uncouple the patient satisfaction metrics from pain management practices.
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