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Health Services Research & Development

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HSR&D In Progress

September 2018

In This Issue: Improving Opioid Safety
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National Opioid Crisis


The misuse of and addiction to opioids (i.e., prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl) is a serious national crisis, with more than 115 people in the United States dying every day following an overdose.1 From July 2016 through September 2017, opioid overdoses increased 30% in the United States, and significant increases were found in five Midwest region states, including Wisconsin (109%), and in three Northeast region states, including Delaware (105%). Increases were reported in every demographic group – males (30%), females (24%), and in all age groups – 25 to 34 years of age (31%), 35 to 54 years of age (36%), and 55 years of age and older (32%).2

In 2013, VA launched the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI), the first of several system-wide initiatives to address opioid overuse. As a result, by mid-2016 the number of Veterans dispensed an opioid each quarter had decreased by 172,000, or about 25%. In 2017, even fewer Veterans were receiving high doses of opioids or concomitant interacting medicines like benzodiazepines, and more Veterans were receiving non-opioid pain therapies, naloxone, and treatment for substance use disorders.3


  1. Vibolo-Kantor A, Seth P, Gladden M, et al. Vital Signs: Trends in emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses – United States, July 2016 to September 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 9, 2018.
  2. Opioid Overdose Crisis. March 2018. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  3. Gellad W, Good C, and Shulkin D. Addressing the opioid epidemic in the United States: Lessons from the Department of Veterans Affairs. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 1, 2017;177(5):611-612.

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