Big Pharma Tackling Big Issue: The Opioid Crisis


According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and the majority are caused by prescription painkillers. Prescription overdose deaths have jumped 242 percent over the span of 20 years. And there were enough opioids prescribed in 2015 alone to medicate every American around the clock for three weeks, according to the CDC.


The statistics paint a grim picture of the opioid crisis’ financial toll on the economy and emotional toll on families and loved ones. As the epidemic continues to shatter cities around the country, lawmakers have pushed to pinpoint vulnerabilities in the system and poke holes in the process to identify a solution. Despite being a national public health crisis, a solution remains elusive. And everyone is quick to point fingers, asking: “Who’s to blame?”

Healthcare Stakeholders’ Roles in Combatting the Opioid Crisis

Many agree that much of the blame is at the hands of big pharma. While this comes as no surprise, it isn’t fair to place the full blame on pharma companies. All stakeholders play a role in this crisis, which means that all stakeholders have a role in finding the solution.  Let’s look at four key areas that can make a difference.


Pharma supply chain turns to technology.

The pharma supply chain is looking to technology to serve a critical role in understanding what’s being prescribed, where it’s being prescribed, and to whom – all important data that could support efforts to curtail unnecessary overprescribing and abuse.

  • Blockchain: The much-hyped technological ledger could create much-needed transparency across the supply chain. Its ability to make drugs more traceable and help manufacturers better track what’s being distributed and to whom is promising.
  • Automated reporting systems: Using a statewide database that collects real-time information on controlled substances sold to pharmacies, Ohio is able to see when and where opioids are dispensed. The data feeds into PMP Interconnect, a communication system that connects pharmacists across country to better track usage, prescribing and dispensing patterns.


Data is imperative.

Gathering and analyzing data, such as that described above, is critical to improving quality of care and driving better outcomes in healthcare across the board. The opioid crisis is no exception, and organizations are leveraging data more and more to figure out how to address the issue.

  • Appriss Health: Today, there is no federal agency synthesizing data from the nations’ prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP). Appriss Health is filling a critical gap by culling data from states’ monitoring programs and analyzing prescription records to understand patient behavior and providing physicians with necessary data to inform decision-making related to substance abuse. The company’s technology integrates state PDMP data into physician and pharmacist workflows to provide real-time data at the point-of-care.
  • Intermountain Healthcare: Utah’s largest hospital announced it’s looking to cut the number of opioids prescribed for acute pain across its entire system by 40 percent by the end of 2018. The hospital has developed a drug database system that monitors prescriptions and provides clinicians with real-time information on their own habits.


Education can lead to action and improvement.

Despite the fact that physicians and other prescribers are aware of the devastation the crisis has caused, there is more to be done from an education standpoint on behalf of physicians, patients, and caregivers. Education at the point of care is a starting point.

  • PatientPoint: PatientPoint has partnered with Shatterproof to place opioid education in nearly 25,000 physician offices across the country. This program, the first national point-of-care initiative of its kind, will reach an estimated 15 million patients and caregivers each month and up to 200 million annually.
  • Walgreens: The popular drugstore chain’s three-pronged approach to combatting the crisis involves an educational component. Walgreens has employed a number of pharmacists and students to educate and counsel patients and caregivers about overdoses and dangerous substances. This is being done alongside expanding access to naloxone, a drug that can block the effects of opioid painkillers, and installing medication-disposal kiosks in a number of stores.


Government plays an intervention role.

The way drugs are packaged has an effect on usage. While this seems obvious, packaging has historically been an issue for opioid manufacturers. This includes everything from the amount of the drug included in the package to how the drug is properly disposed of if no longer needed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking matters into its own hands to reduce unnecessary exposure to opioids. The FDA is asking manufacturers of loperamide, a common opioid medicine, to ensure that packages contain only the amount appropriate to treat conditions.


Addressing and solving the opioid crisis in America today requires a collaborative effort. The pharma supply chain – with the help of technology – will help to offer transparency and manage patient prescriptions. Access to data will paint a clearer picture for providers of when and where opioids are being prescribed. Policies put in place by government agencies, such as the FDA, will help regulate packaging standards and production quotas. And educating physicians and patients on safe disposal practices and the dangers of overdose can lead to better outcomes.


Fixing the opioid crisis takes all of us. Only when all stakeholders come to the table, setting political agendas aside, will we uncover solutions that will have a lasting impact. Join us at HLTH as industry leaders share strategies and approaches for addressing one of the most crippling healthcare issues of our time.

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