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First, Do No Harm: Marshaling Clinician Leadership to Counter the Opioid Epidemic

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This publication has undergone peer review according to procedures established by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Publication by the NAM signifies that it is the product of a carefully considered process and is a contribution worthy of public attention, but does not constitute endorsement of conclusions and recommendations by the NAM. The views presented in this publication are those of individual contributors and do not represent formal consensus positions of the authors’ organizations; the NAM; or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

There is no question that opioid use disorder has become the fastest growing, serious, and far-reaching public health crisis facing our nation today. The growing and unprecedented opioid epidemic is a critical issue for public health and medical care throughout the country. Provisional estimates suggest that nearly 65,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016, a 21% increase from the previous year and at a level higher than occurred during the peak years for deaths from HIV infection and automobile fatalities.

Nearly half of opioid overdose deaths are related to medications obtained legally by prescription, sparking deep concern among leaders in the health care sector. The need is clear for clinicians, as the "gatekeepers" of opioid prescriptions, and as the front line in facilitating access to treatment for addiction, to work together with state and community leaders to reduce the impact of opioid misuse on American communities.

At the request of the National Governors Association, the National Academy of Medicine convened a group of experts and field leaders to explore clinicians' roles in addressing opioid misuse and addiction. The resulting Special Publication is informed by, and builds on, initiatives and guidelines that have been stewarded by various stakeholder organizations providing leadership in addressing these issues. In the midst of evolving understanding of and experience in pain management and substance abuse, the authors offer to clinicians a set of axioms applicable both to responsible, appropriate opioid prescribing practices, and to recognition and treatment of substance use disorder. Also underscored are actions that clinicians can take to improve their skills and effectiveness in the face of the growing need, including leadership engagement to ensure that communities have the resources and tools that clinicians require to fulfill their responsibilities.

Suggested Citation:
National Academy of Medicine. 2017. First, Do No Harm: Marshaling Clinician Leadership to Counter the Opioid Epidemic. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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