Key Technologies for Fighting Opioid Misuse are Gaining Traction

July 05, 2018

The statistics are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid epidemic now takes more lives in the U.S. than breast cancer. In addition, American life expectancy at birth declined for the second consecutive year in 2016 due to a dramatic 21 percent rise in the death rate from drug overdoses. Our nation has not experienced a two-year consecutive decline in life expectancy since the early 1960s as a result of an influenza epidemic. Even the worst mortality rate of the AIDS epidemic in 1993 caused American life expectancy to drop for just one year.

More than a national emergency, the opioid epidemic is a national tragedy. There is hope, however, in the form of education, treatment, public policy and powerful health information technologies that are available today. For greater insight, please watch the video Technology: A Prescription for a 21st Century Health Crisis.


In the video, Michael Nissenbaum, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aprima Medical Software says, “The biggest thing we need for the opioid crisis, at least on the prescription side, is the knowledge. And Surescripts provides that to the providers.”

In a recent paper Changing the Course of the Opioid Epidemic: The Power and Promise of Proven Technology, Paul Uhrig, our Chief Administrative, Legal and Privacy Officer, described five key technologies that can help prescribers safely and securely provide opioid pain management for patients with a true therapeutic need while simultaneously identifying and mitigating potential prescription opioid fraud and misuse. As reported in the 2017 Surescripts National Progress Report, we’ve seen remarkable progress with the adoption and utilization of these services.

Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances (EPCS) and CancelRx Provide Greater Prescription Accuracy, Security, Flexibility and Safety
These technologies enable prescribers to safely, accurately and securely prescribe controlled substances as well as cancel those prescriptions when appropriate to prevent prescription opioid duplications or redundancies that can impact patient safety.

Twenty-one percent of all controlled substance prescriptions were electronic in 2017, up from just 11 percent the year prior. In addition, Surescripts processed 3.8 million CancelRx transactions in 2017, with 555,000 prescribers and 31,000 pharmacies using software that has been certified with the technology.

Medication History and Clinical History Provide a More Complete Patient Picture
These solutions arm healthcare professionals with a more complete picture of the clinical care and prescription opioid therapies that their patients have received—information that is key to informing safer, more effective and more efficient clinical decisions.

Last year, Surescripts delivered 1.46 billion medication histories—a 35 percent increase over 2016. This included more than one million medication histories delivered to long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) facilities and 355,000 medication histories for populations.*

Surescripts Record Locator & Exchange enables healthcare professionals to exchange care location summaries and clinical documents no matter where in the country care was provided or which electronic health record (EHR) was used. This means that an emergency room doctor can quickly see if a patient suffering from back pain has visited an outpatient addiction treatment center, indicating that there could well be a problem with opioid abuse or misuse. Last year, this technology was utilized by 51,888 clinicians, representing 3,130 organizations across 47 states.

Clinical Direct Messaging Enables Better Care Coordination Among Physicians, Other Clinicians and Pharmacists
This solution gives healthcare professionals a seamless, EHR-integrated means to securely communicate with each other to better coordinate care, discuss their patient’s prescription opioid therapy, and increase care quality and patient safety.

In 2017, Surescripts transmitted 25.9 million Clinical Direct Messages—a 32 percent increase over 2016—between 529,000 individual and organization users, including 22,000 pharmacies.

Insights for Adherence Delivers Easily Consumable Notifications to Talk About Medication Issues with Patients at the Point of Care
This technology leverages pharmacy prescription fill data to deliver relevant, real-time and actionable information about prescription opioid medication adherence, e.g., if a patient is refilling their prescription too often or not often enough, is on a high-risk mediation or is at risk for an adverse drug event (ADE).

In 2017, Surescripts delivered more than 197,000 medication adherence insights for patients to the point of care.

A public health crisis of this magnitude requires all hands on deck. Everyone in the healthcare ecosystem can play a role in the nation’s recovery. Pharmacists can have conversations with their patients about opioids and support the tools mentioned above by providing data and increasing their ability to receive EPCS transactions and Clinical Direct Messages. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and payers can help by providing access to patient data at the point of prescribing. Policymakers can enact meaningful legislation to encourage broader adoption of health IT, including mandating the use of EPCS. And patients can help by sticking with their medication therapies as prescribed and openly discussing any medication issues with their doctors, pharmacists, and other members of their care team.

These technologies represent the tangible results of many years of painstaking work undertaken by every facet of the healthcare ecosystem across the Surescripts Network Alliance™. To learn more, please download the Surescripts 2017 National Progress Report

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