Medical community seeks ways to battle addiction



Staff Writer

Medical professionals and law enforcement officials acknowledged a correlation between an increase in the prescription of opioid painkillers and the upward trends in statewide heroin use and addiction at the “Do No Harm” symposium at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

The symposium was designed to find solutions and alternate ways of treating patients in a bid to reduce dependence on legally prescribed opioids, according to Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

The Oct. 1 conference in New Brunswick was the fifth of its kind, and his organization has others like it planned for the spring, he said.

“We really want to open a dialogue between the medical community, law enforcement, and prevention and treatment communities to collectively come up with solutions to this problem,” Valente said.

By thinking twice about prescribing opioids as the first option, physicians can take a big step forward in addressing the rise in addiction, he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012. Forty-six U.S. citizens die every day from an overdose of those prescriptions.

“I think we are moving in the right direction by looking at alternatives. There’s a direct link between opiate-based prescription drugs and, in many cases, the abuse of heroin,” Valente said.

When patients run out of prescription drugs, they will often turn to heroin, according to Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey.

“If you’re an addict and you’re paying $60 a pill, you’re going to turn to other means,” Carey said. “You’re going to turn to heroin because the purity is so high, and it’s so cheap and readily available.

“We need to get the patients the medicine they need while at the same time keeping them from getting addicted in the first place, and to get them off drugs if they get addicted during pain management.”

However, a law enforcement crackdown alone wouldn’t be enough to reverse the trends, he said.

“We in law enforcement recognize that we are not going to arrest our way out of the problems regarding addiction and pain management,” Carey said. “We know that it is a health issue, and it has to be a partnership between doctors and law enforcement together to combat the problem.”

Dr. Iqbal Jafri, director of a pain-medicine program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute and a clinical professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, offered potential alternatives to the prescription of opioid painkillers, stating that the medical costs associated with prescription drug abuse can reach up to $635 billion per year. According to Jafri, by employing a multidisciplinary approach and including the input of other professionals like psychologists and physical therapists instead of overprescribing painkillers, patients will experience long-term benefits and a better recovery.

There are a number of alternative treatments for chronic pain that should be employed before opiate-based drugs, he said. These include aqua therapy, ultrasound treatments and manual therapy.

“There is no need to give pain pills,” Jafri said. “It will only offer some temporary relief.

“The overall message is that people in pain need access to a safer and more effective type of treatment.”