Op-Ed

Family physicians key to opioid-abuse fight

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Across Kentucky, community leaders, health care professionals, public-policy makers and law-enforcement officials are stepping up to address the opioid epidemic. The Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians is one of the many groups working to stop opioid abuse before it starts and to help those who are already struggling with opioid use disorders.

Physicians see the tragic consequences of the opioid crisis firsthand. My 15 years as a practicing physician have opened my eyes to how this epidemic impacts Kentuckians of all backgrounds and walks of life. Rich, poor, urban, rural — opioid addiction does not discriminate.

Family physicians are often the best hope Kentuckians and their families have for preventing and treating opioid abuse. We take that role very seriously.

When used properly and under a physician’s supervision, opioids can help patients manage pain and improve quality of life. The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, Drug Enforcement Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have regulations and guidelines to ensure doctors are prescribing in a way that reduces the risk of abuse or diversion.

Family physicians are also uniquely poised to arrange life-saving treatment for patients affected by opioid use disorders. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach, health-care professionals must stay educated on all available, evidence-based options.

The KAFP encourages physicians to understand and implement strategies including medication assisted treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy and peer support groups, and treatment of mental-health comorbidities, based on patients’ varying medical histories and individual needs.

To truly beat this epidemic, the important work family physicians are doing to prevent and treat opioid abuse cannot end when they leave the office. As the primary-care providers for Kentuckians, it is incumbent on us to seek out and share information and best practices with the many others who are fighting this epidemic in our communities.

The 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act recognizes the importance of ongoing provider education, and we commend Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues in Congress for bringing it to passage.

The opioid crisis is a widespread, multifaceted problem that requires a widespread, multifaceted solution. Family physicians are an integral piece of the puzzle and can lead the way on making sure effective prevention and treatment programs are as accessible as possible.

Dr. William C. Thornbury Jr. is president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians.

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