BUFFALO, NY - A day after it was announced that 7 people died locally of overdoses in a single day, a leading expert on opioid addiction was speaking to medical professionals at the University at Buffalo.

Peggy Compton, RN, PhD, FAAN, and an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke with nearly 400 nurses, physicians and other health care workers

She noted that for many the path to opioid addiction, and in some cases to heroin use and even death, began with a legitimate purpose in a legitimate setting.

A hospital or doctor’s office, and a prescription for pain medication.

"I think that many physicians and nurse practitioners are used to writing a standard opioid prescription after a standard procedure and that's part of their standing orders," Compton told WGRZ-TV.

She also noted that it’s been that way for nearly an entire generation of medicine.

“Back in the late 90's there was a concern that we were not treating pain aggressively enough so the pendulum kind of swung in the direction of providing more opioids for patients to make sure their pain was adequately managed,” said Compton.

But during that time she noted that, in medical school the average medical students gets less than two hours total in the treatment of addiction and the treatment of chronic pain."

Perhaps more startling, she said, was that, “veterinarians actually get more training in pain management than do medical students so, that we manage the pain of our pets better than we manage the pain of our brothers or sisters."

Certainly, not everyone who takes opioid pain medication will become addicted. Statistically the rate is less than 10 percent.

"There are certain people that are pre-disposed to difficulty in managing their drug use," said Compton, who added that there are now methodologies available to determine which patients might be more vulnerable to addiction than others.

Statistically, only one in ten. And there are even ways now to determine who might be at risk

“There are screening tools available and there are clear risk factors for people's propensity to become addicted,” she said. “One of the most important if you've been addicted to anything else previously addicted to anything else like alcohol or cocaine. Next is your family, and if there’s a history of addiction or drug abuse, then you are much more likely to become addicted yourself.”

But while screening methodology is available, according to Compton, only about one third of health care providers utilize it before prescribing opiates.

“The new CDC guidelines that came out emphasize the importance of doing that screening prior to providing opioids, but there’s no mandate at this time. There is also a push for health care professionals, when they go to renew their DEA license, to get some further training or education as a condition of getting teat renewal,” she said.

“I don't think opioids are necessarily bad medications, they just haven’t been used appropriately, said Compton.

In the meantime, Compton says patients have to take it upon themselves to examine what kinds of medication they are prescribed.
She also says more needs to be done to treat those who become addicted

“There is treatment for opioid addiction and treatment works. Unfortunately, there's not enough treatment available. Only one out of ten of those who need it actually get it, and that’s because there’s not enough treatment slots available,” said Compton.

“If only one of ten cancer patients in this country were able to get treatment for the management of their cancer, we would be up in arms. And yet we have patients dying from this deadly disease of addiction without enough treatment available.”

To that end, lawmakers in Albany on Friday committed $2.65 million to expand and develop addiction treatment support services throughout the state, with roughly $250,000 of that earmarked for Western New York.