August 25, 2016
United States Surgeon General appeals to America’s clinicians to “Turn the Tide” on the prescription drug epidemic
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a historic first, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy has sent a letter to 2.3 million American health professionals, asking them to lead a national movement to turn the tide on the nation’s prescription opioid epidemic.
“I know solving this problem will not be easy,” Dr. Murthy writes. “We often struggle to balance reducing our patients’ pain with increasing their risk of addiction. But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic.”
The Surgeon General urged clinicians to visit a website his office launched this month, TurnTheTideRx.org, where they can pledge their commitment to combating opioid misuse by enhancing education for treating pain, by screening patients for opioid use disorder, and by leading a shift in the public perception of addiction so that it is treated as chronic illness rather than as a moral failing. This effort builds upon the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Opioid Initiative focused on tackling the nation’s opioid epidemic, as well as the National Pain Strategy, the federal government’s first coordinated plan to reduce the burden of chronic pain in the U.S.
In the letter, Dr. Murthy points out that nearly 20 years ago the medical community was encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain. As the number of prescriptions for opioid pain relievers increased, so did the number of deaths from opioid overdose. In 2014 alone, there were nearly 240 million prescriptions dispensed for opioids. In the same year, more than 14,000 people died from overdose of those drugs.
The letter, which was mailed this week, also contains a pocket card outlining the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines. This marks the first time that a U.S. Surgeon General has sent a letter directly to the nation’s health professionals seeking their support in addressing a public health crisis. Since April, Dr. Murthy has been visiting American communities hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, talking to health professionals, community leaders and people who have recovered from opioid use disorder. And later this year he will release the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on alcohol, drugs and health.