In December, Phoenix House’s Chief Medical Officer, Andrew Kolodny, M.D. gave an extensive presentation on Prescription Drug Abuse in America for clinical staff at Phoenix Houses of California. The leaders of all of our treatment programs in the region had a chance to learn about the dangers and explosive growth of prescription drugs, the number-one cause of death by overdose in the country, with a higher fatality rate than car accidents.
Dr. Kolodny joined Phoenix House as Chief Medical Officer in September 2013 and this presentation was one in a series of his visits to Phoenix House’s clinical programs nationwide. A tireless champion for patients and families, he has spent his career treating and advocating for those affected by addiction. With a passion for public health, Dr. Kolodny has led life-saving clinical initiatives in settings that range from a city health department to a major metropolitan hospital. He has also consistently spoken out about pressing health crises, becoming a leading advocate for policy measures to reduce our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. Board-certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine, Dr. Kolodny serves as the president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), and he has also been a go-to expert on prescription drug abuse for numerous media outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
Phoenix House clinical team included, among others (left to right in the photo): Elizabeth Urquhart, Sr. Director of Phoenix House Academy in San Diego; Ami Tamika, Coordinator of Orange County Adult Outpatient Program; Frank Sanchez, Interim Director of Phoenix House Academy in Los Angeles; Paula Rice-Sherman, Director of Orange County Adult Services; Elizabeth Stanley Salazar, VP and Director of Clinical Services; and Carole-Ann Scott, MA, Director of Prevention Services in Orange County and Los Angeles. During his lecture Dr. Kolodny pointed out that overdose fatality rates have skyrocketed in the past 20 years and that prescription drug deaths are responsible for the dramatic increase of all overdose deaths in the country, especially within the highest-risk population of 40-50 year old Caucasian men. In contrast, the rates of overdose deaths caused by other opiates (heroin), meth, and cocaine remain stable.
Dr. Kolodny pointed out that over-prescribing of opiates for chronic pain (Oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet, etc.) is the source of this epidemic and that it was based on a false – and since discredited – premise that presciption drugs are not addictive (in fact over 35% of chronic-pain opioid users do become addicted).
The Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Report indicates the disproportionate and growing role of prescription opioids as a cause of death, positively correlated with the sales of opioid pain relievers as well as with treatment admissions.
The figure shows rates of opioid pain reliever (OPR) overdose death, OPR treatment admissions, and kilograms of OPR sold in the United States during 1999-2010. In that period, overdose death rates, sales, and substance abuse treatment admissions related to OPR all increased substantially.