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UM researchers plan to cut opioid use in half in Michigan

Nov 10, 2017

President Donald Trump recently declared America's opioid crisis a “national emergency."

Prescription opioids are prescribed for pain, but the medications can be highly addictive. People who become addicted may switch to heroin when they can no longer get pills at the pharmacy or on the black market.

The epidemic is rapidly killing people, something like 90 people a day in the U.S.

While the nation is coming to grips with the opioid crisis, researchers at the University of Michigan have started a group to reduce opioid addiction in this state.

Dr. Chad Brummett, Director of the Division of Pain Research at the University of Michigan, joined Stateside to talk about the group. It’s called Michigan-OPEN, which stands for Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network.

On why opioids are overprescribed

Dr. Brummett says there are a number of reasons why opioids are so prevalent in America. Physicians didn’t understand how addictive they were at first, and pharmaceutical companies often mislabeled the drugs to hide their risks.

“Sadly, in 2017, we still don’t know how many pills you need after I send you home,” said Dr. Brummett. “Some of that over-prescribing has been through lack of understanding, lack of guidelines, but also a want to keep people happy.”

Physicians, also wary about repetitive calls for refills overloading their offices, often give patients many more pills than they need.

On the group’s focus

Michigan-OPEN focuses on what Dr. Brummett called “acute care prescribing,” which includes “prescribing for surgery, dentistry, emergency medicine, and in particular those people coming for care… most of whom are not taking opioids before they come in and then are given opioids as a part of their post-procedural or post-care pain management.”

“We’re interested in helping shepherd those people through a path and applying a preventative narrative to decrease or even eliminate new chronic use, new addiction, and the spill of excess pills into our community through over-prescribing," Brummett said. 

On working with current users to prevent future addiction

Michigan-OPEN has been working with a number of groups, including Families Against Narcotics, to prevent opioid use among current users and among students. One major effort has united Families Against Narcotics and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan. The goal is to create 30 minutes of creative content about drug addiction to be performed at Michigan middle schools.

“[Middle school students] don’t want to listen to Old Man Brummett come in and tell them not to do drugs. That’s not going to be an effective way to reach a middle schooler,” Dr. Brummett said. “Right now, kids don’t believe they’re addicted because they were prescribed by a physician.”

Listen above for the full conversation.

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or with this RSS link)