Revisiting the 'paradigm shift' in opioid use: Developments and implications 10 years later.

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Abstract

A decade ago, we queried the unfolding of a 'paradigm shift' in illicit opioid use in North America, specifically involving a shift away from heroin to prescription opioid (PO) use. Today, this situation is more acute than ever, with prescription opioid misuse, morbidity and mortality amounting to one of the most severe substance use-related public health crises ever, now even impacting life expectancy in key population segments. Despite medical system-based PO dispensing and practices being recognised as core drivers of the PO crisis, effective policy measures have been long absent or limited-including those to reduce medical PO use to levels supported by best evidence for pain care. At the same time, heroin use has been increasing again, now commonly tied into interdependent opioid use trajectories, initiated with POs yet shifting to heroin as influenced by economic or availability factors. For policy, there are now two major and urgent-yet partly conflicting-tasks: one is to reduce the determinants of PO misuse and harms by reducing medical prescribing to levels supported by good evidence, while the other is to effectively protect those many active problematic PO users from acute harms (including overdose mortality) by providing effective treatment and survival aids (e.g. naloxone). Surprisingly, it appears that a major 'homemade' and medical system-induced drug crisis has been at least as challenging for North American policy systems to address as other, more conventional illicit drug problems. Lessons for policy hence need to be urgently identified and applied for the future. [Fischer B, Rehm J. Revisiting the 'paradigm shift' in opioid use: Developments and implications 10 years later. Drug Alcohol Rev 2017;00:000-000].

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