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Trib editorial: Opioid-prescription reductions show Pa.'s monitoring program off to promising start

| Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
OxyContin, an opioid painkiller.
OxyContin, an opioid painkiller.

Reducing opioid prescriptions — too often, gateways to abusing street drugs — is an essential public-health part of the overall addiction battle, which must include law enforcement, too. Pennsylvania's recent efforts toward that end have a long way to go but are starting to bear fruit, suggesting the Keystone State is on the right track.

The state Health Department's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program began operating in mid-2016, countering “doctor-shopping” with a registry that doctors can check before prescribing opioids. Program data released under Gov. Tom Wolf's Jan. 10 statewide opioid-crisis disaster declaration show opioid-prescription numbers dropped in 2017's third quarter by about 13 percent in Allegheny County, 9.3 percent in Westmoreland County and 11 percent statewide.

That's a start, but the numbers remain too high, according to Dr. Rachel Levine, state physician general and acting Health secretary. She says “medical professionals have to learn to use opioids more carefully,” and better, wider use of guidelines on prescribing for patients who have chronic pain unrelated to cancer will help. Dr. Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department director, says insurers also are playing an important role.

Of course, patients with genuine medical needs for opioid prescriptions must continue to get them. But redoubling efforts to reduce opioid-prescription abuse is an indispensable component of the larger addiction fight. Hopefully, updated data will show there's more to those efforts than just a promising start.

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