BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Opioid addiction has killed nearly 150 people this year in Erie County. And yet, powerful painkillers like hydrocodone and OxyContin continue to be the No. 1 prescribed drug to treat pain in Medicaid patients.
Local leaders and some in the medical community are saying it’s time to shake that trend.
“We need to make sure that today’s patients don’t become tomorrow’s addicts,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.
Erie County’s medical community held up a mirror Thursday, saying *they were the front line when it comes to curtailing opioid abuse.
A $64,000 grant issued by the Tower Foundation is meant to ensure training for doctors on how to better prescribe powerful and sometimes addictive painkillers.
Burstein says 147 people have died from opioid abuse, and that doctors shoulder at least some of the responsibility because of a tendency to over-prescribe pills like hydrocodone and OxyContin during the past several years.
“So often, we hear from opioid-addicted persons that their addiction originated at the doctor’s office,” she said.
Burstein said the money will be used to provide training for up to 25 doctors to prescribe suboxone, a painkiller that doesn’t come with the addictive side effect.
Dr. Paul Updike, the medical director of chemical dependency services for Catholic Health System, says there’s a reason for that.
“The prescribing of opiates increased, really for legitimate reasons, trying to treat people with pain,” Updike said. “But without unfortunately proper recognition that increasing the prescribing and exposing more and more people to these medications could have really dire consequences as well.”
Those dire consequences are turning more and more people from legal drugs to the street, when prescriptions and options run out, experts said.
Updike says it’s not a free-for-all when it comes to prescribing opiates, but it’s often the path of least resistance.
“I would definitely say the prescribing of opiates became much more liberalized,” he said.
The question remains, however: Will doctors take advantage of *this life saving training.
“This is a question I’ve really struggled with in my career,” Updike said. “As physicians, our first job is to alleviate pain and suffering. And this is definitely causing a significant amount of pain and suffering in our community.
“We’re calling people to do the right thing,” he added. “Granted, the right thing is complicated, from my perspective, but there is a right thing to be done.”
The training to be provided to doctors locally is similar to what’s being asked at the state level, as part of an initiative spearheaded by Avi Israel, whose son, Michael, committed suicide while addicted to painkillers.
But the bill to make such training mandatory statewide has failed to even reach the floor in the Assembly the past two years.