Campaign to fight opioid crisis, new addictions launched in Netherlands
The Dutch government launched an information website where doctors and patients can get factual and easy-to-understand information on opioids, Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care announced along with other measures taken in the fight against painkiller addiction in the Netherlands.
"Unnecessary and irresponsible use of heavy painkillers must stop. We do not want American conditions here, so I have taken measures", the Minister said in a letter to parliament. He stressed that it is important that no mistrust arise regarding these medicines, as opioids are of great importance for patients with severe pain. But people must be aware of the risks and use these painkillers responsibly.
"People need to be more clearly informed about the risks if they use these painkillers incorrectly or for a longer period. This is also an important task for hospitals, doctors and pharmacists", Bruins said.
Hence the information website, which is intended to get rid of any confusion regarding the use of opioids. It offers a counterweight to information from unknown or unreliable sources. For patients, the website offers easily accessible information in understandable language. And for healthcare providers, there are e-learning sessions on these pain killers.
Healthcare providers made agreements about tightening the guidelines on the use of opioids. They are currently working on updated guidelines on repeat prescriptions, discharge medication after hospitalization, and responsible reduction. Next year a phasing-out protocol will be launched for patients already addicted to these painkillers. And pharmacists will be extra alert to counterfeit prescriptions.
In order to increase the knowledge about opioid use and its consequences, the Netherlands' organization for scientific research NWO awarded a grant for the Universities of Utrecht, Leiden and Nijmegen to research this in collaboration with numerous experts in the next five years.
In February, Bruins launched a task force and started implementing measures against opioid use. Research by this task force showed indications that there is a black market for opioids like oxycodone in the Netherlands. The Minister is setting up a separate group within the opioid task force, consisting of members of the Healthcare Inspectorate, Public Prosecution Service, and the police, to further investigate the extent of the illegal trade and give advice on how to tackle this.
The number of opioid prescriptions in the Netherlands increased from 94 thousand in 2008 to 484 thousand last year. Preliminary figures for the first two quarters of this year show that there the number of opioid prescriptions decreased somewhat. "The decline in the number of users of these heavy painkillers is encouraging. A lot of work has already been done, but we are not there yet", Bruins said. "Now we will continue to work further."