Attendees Line Up to Tell the CDC to Act Now

Barbara Herbert, M.D.: "I don't think of my patients as prescription drug abusers. I think of my patients as people who have a disease. I feel like that language is critical."

Barbara Herbert, M.D.: “I don’t think of my patients as prescription drug abusers. I think of my patients as people who have a disease. I feel like that language is critical.”

Annual Medical-Scientific Conference attendees didn’t hold back their questions and comments after Ileana Arias, Ph.D., the second-in-command at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented her Policy Plenary keynote talk Saturday morning on addressing prescription drug abuse.

The Principal Deputy Director of the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry embraced the feedback, which covered a gamut of topics. Attendees called on Dr. Arias to bring these topics to the forefront of the CDC’s efforts: addiction treatment, Internet pharmacies, elimination of the 100-patient limit for providers of buprenorphine, guidance for communicating with patients about moving off opioids when they are not helpful, teenage “pharm parties,” seeing the issues not as an epidemic but as a “pain health problem,” mechanisms for pharmacies to keep dispensing in check, the increase in opioid use after the Joint Commission declared pain as the “fifth vital sign,” laws that prevent communication about addiction between providers, and mandatory education for prescribers.

A common theme among the audience was to improve advocacy for patients who rightly rely on opioids to relieve their pain, but suffer from an undeserved stigma.

In her passionate remarks, Barbara Herbert, M.D., who works in a community practice in Boston, recalled the CDC’s advocacy for those with HIV.

“The CDC was a real leader, and they directly took on the issue of stigma,” Dr. Herbert says. “I’m very concerned about the ways our patients are characterized. I don’t think of my patients as prescription drug abusers. I think of my patients as people who have a disease. I feel like that language is critical. The CDC has been so important in taking on HIV directly and talking about stigma and bias. I plead with you. Do it again.”

Lee Tannenbaum, M.D., Bel Air (Md.) Center for Addictions, asked that the CDC widely distribute public service announcements.

“When we had the flu epidemic, it was the No. 1 story on the news for weeks and weeks at a time. Within a month, every person in my community had alcohol-based hand sanitizer in their offices and homes,” Dr. Tannenbaum says. “Why have we not seen a single PSA that says: ‘Lock up your prescription medicines just like you lock up your Drano. Keep your Percocet and oxycodone under lock and key. Your medicine cabinet is not enough'”?

While Dr. Arias says opioid misuse and overuse will not be eradicated, she is optimistic.

“We can make a significant difference. We have the tools now, and we know that more can be developed,” Dr. Arias says. “We’re right with you on that.”