VIP on Campus: Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, Addresses Opioid Misuse

“Most people who misuse opioids are getting them from legally written prescriptions,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to an overflow audience in Einstein’s Judith and Meshulam Riklis Auditorium on June 30. This fact forms the foundation of Dr. Murthy’s prescriber-to-prescriber “Turn the Tide” campaign, in which he speaks to clinicians across the nation about addiction to prescription painkillers.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and NYC’s first lady Chirlane McCray with Commissioner of Health Dr. Mary Bassett and peer educator Leonard Gill during a panel discussion aimed at addressing misuse of opioids.
From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, which include methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with an opioid use disorder may also be 40 times more likely than those without the disorder to use heroin, placing them at risk of infection with HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses.

Joining the clear-speaking, down-to-earth Dr. Murthy at Einstein-Montefiore—the eighth stop in his nationwide “listening tour”—were New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, a writer and advocate for the underserved who leads the city’s efforts on mental health and substance misuse; Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor; Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner of Health for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; and Leonard Gill, a patient in long-term recovery and a peer educator.

Action Plan

The panel outlined many ways clinicians can combat opioid misuse and overdose, beginning with identifying patients at risk. “A shadow of shame hangs over the issue of opioid addiction,” noted Dr. Bassett. “Ask patients in a nonjudgmental way if they use opioids, just as you ask about alcohol intake.”

Other best practices are making naloxone (for emergency treatment of a drug overdose) more available, connecting patients to treatment and helping patients understand the dangers and benefits of opioids. These practices are already in place in the Bronx.

“As the second largest opioid treatment program in the nation, Montefiore has been fully engaged in working to stem the opioid crisis and provide the best care to people struggling with addiction,” said Lynn Richmond, NP, Executive Vice President, Montefiore Health. “Our approach has been to take care of the whole patient, from the medical issues to the emotional, social and even legal and financial, because we know that’s what it takes.”

Physicians, nurses, dentists and others across the nation who prescribe opioids will soon receive a letter from Dr. Murthy urging them to intensify their efforts to combat the country’s opioid epidemic.

“People are looking to leaders to step up and change the culture,” said Dr. Murthy. “I believe our profession is the one that should step up. By sharpening our prescribing practices, we can turn the tide.”


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