Opiate abuse kills more than 17,000 Americans annually. Technology can help save lives.

Despite continued efforts at the state and national level to address the issue, opioid addiction has raged on in 2015. Massachusetts is no exception. Just last week, the Boston Globe reported that there were 1,256 opioid-related deaths in the Bay State in 2014, which exceeded estimations from the state’s Department of Public Health released earlier their year.

This represents a 34 percent increase from 2013, and as the Globe describes it, a "startling" 88 percent increase from 2012. And, although there is heighted awareness to the issue, we are currently on pace in 2015 to match last year's record-setting death toll.

As a practicing ER physician, I see patients struggling with opioid addiction far too often. It presents a truly difficult line to straddle as a physician - while my goal is to always treat pain with the best therapies available (medication or otherwise), for patients that have demonstrated previous drug abuse, or fit the profile of a drug abuser, is it worth the risk of prescribing opioids? When utilized properly, narcotics and other controlled substances are an effective way to treat pain, but the risks are not to be ignored or brushed aside. An op-ed published last week in the New York Times really resonated with me on this point - as doctors, we're committed to making the best choices for our patients' treatments, but we're frequently accused of either under-treating and being too conservative, or overprescribing and adding to the opioid abuse epidemic. 

Making matters worse, current technology at most hospitals doesn't allow physicians a full view of a patient's medical record. The lack of interoperability presents major blind spots in our current system of care. Being able to view how other doctors have historically treated a patient would make my job easier. 

This is where technology can help. Earlier this week, the Boston Globe profiled one of our newest partners - Cambridge Health Alliance. They have chosen our product, Imprivata Confirm ID, for electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS) to allow them to better monitor prescriptions and combat fraud and counterfeiting. Electronic prescribing allows doctors and pharmacists to have a direct link, removing the paper prescriptions that are easy to manipulate. 

I admire everything Governor Baker's task force is doing to help those in the throes of addiction, but there's more we can do to prevent this at the point of care. As part of a robust strategy to curb prescription drug abuse, we need to give providers the best tools available to help them make sound decisions when prescribing controlled substances. I applaud Cambridge Health Alliance for taking the steps needed to begin addressing this epidemic from a technological standpoint.

As an early adopter of a comprehensive electronic medical record system, they were in a position to implement a technical solution which will help drive swift adoption of EPCS across their health system. Given the billions of dollars spent by hospitals across the United States in the last decade to implement electronic medical record systems, my hope is that these hospitals will go the extra step to tap into the true capability of the systems, address the growing opiate addiction epidemic by fully leveraging technology, and help their providers save lives and deliver the best patient care possible.