Wednesday, November 22, 2017

State-mandated drug-monitoring databases appear to have boosted use of heroin, W.Va. study shows

The opioid epidemic was partly caused by prescription-drug abuse, so almost all states have instituted prescription-monitoring databases so doctors can judge whether a patient is pain-pill shopping. But those efforts to lower addiction appear to have created a perverse incentive for addicts to choose a more easily accessible high: heroin. Researchers from West Virginia University found that "after West Virginia required doctors to use its database, overdoses from heroin among 18- to 34-year-olds actually went up, more than doubling in just three years," Francie Diep reports for Pacific Standard.

The data came from an analysis of WVU-affiliated hospitals and outpatient centers; lead researcher Sara Warfield and her colleagues looked for how often the facilities admitted adults for prescription-painkiller and heroin overdoses between 2008 and 2015. The prescription-monitoring database was mandated in 2012, and that year heroin overdoses among young adults began spiking "significantly." Kentucky has experienced a similar pattern.

The study isn’t deep enough to prove cause and effect, but it jibes with other research suggesting that increasing prescription monitoring without taking steps to help people overcome addiction triggers an increase in illicit opioid use. "Another way to think about this idea is that to solve a drug problem, you can't only dry up the drug supply," Diep reports. "You also have to reduce drug demand." The researchers recommend more needle exchange programs, naloxone availability, and drug treatment programs, and note that West Virginia has done all three in recent years.

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