As health professionals across the U.S. look for ways to reduce the rates of opioid use across the country, it may prove that technology will be an essential resource. The abuse of prescription pain medication, as well as heroin, has gripped the nation. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reported that the problem has worsened dramatically in the last few years.

With improved interoperability, doctors and scientists may be able to better coordinate efforts to prevent abuse among certain patients, as well as uncover at-risk demographics that may benefit from a targeted care plan.  At the same time, higher levels of connectivity may also encourage the development and distribution of information regarding pharmaceuticals that have high abuse rates. In the face of a growing opioid epidemic, here are a few ways the industry can use technology to save lives.

Identifying at-risk individuals

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s industry guidelines for opioid abuse prevention, identifying specific patient demographics and characteristics is critical for understanding when and where abuse may take place.  Because lifestyle or socio-economic factors may make certain populations more susceptible to abuse, providers must be informed when prescribing powerful pain medications.

Some patients may be more likely to abuse pain medications.Some patients may be more likely to abuse pain medications.

The ASAM found that the rates of substance use treatment and overdose have risen precipitously in recent memory. The number of opioid prescriptions and the number of deaths caused by abuse are both more than four times higher than they were in 1999.  Not only is this cause for concern among providers, but may suggest that the problem is affecting new populations.

For that reason, medical professionals must work together to build patient profiles that highlight individuals that are at-risk. This includes listing past treatments, current prescriptions or social demographics.  Advanced analytics in population health and the use of big data may be a critical tool in reversing abuse rates.

Providing educational resources and support

It is crucial for doctors to be honest and open about the possibility of abuse, especially with patients that have been prescribed opioid pain medication and are considered at-risk.  Engagement efforts are helpful in promoting proactive behavior across the board, but in the case of opioid addiction, these sorts of measures are of paramount importance.

“It is crucial for doctors to be honest and open about the possibility of abuse.”

The National Institutes of Health found that education and transparency are critical tools in patient management in the context of opioid addiction.  After a patient leaves a doctor’s office or other treatment center, a physician can continue to provide support and helpful resources remotely through email or text messaging.  At the same time, medical professionals should encourage patients to report any concerns related to abuse.

Developing new drugs or policies

An EHR system and other technologies are important for working with patients to identify and prevent possible instances of abuse, but there are ways that researchers and drug manufacturers can also use technology to possibly reduce addiction and overdose.

Many patients are over-prescribed pain medication, and may abuse or even share extra pills. One study found that most adolescents who abuse prescription medicine or heroin were first introduced to opioids from a friend or relative sharing excess pain relievers, the ASAM stated. Medical professionals will need to use patient engagement systems and improved communication with pharmacists or internal lab technicians to create more accurate orders and avoid potentially dangerous over-prescriptions.

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At the same time, the FDA reported that drug manufacturers may be able to create pain medications that are either less addictive or are otherwise more difficult to manipulate into a recreational drug. By leveraging the same demographic information that doctors may use to prevent abuse, pharmaceutical companies can inform the development of new medications. This will require improved communication and more fluid information exchange among drug manufacturers.