Study Identifies Measures to Prevent Opioid Overdose

Doctor writing prescription for a patientA University of Pittsburgh public health law class recently tested several measures to combat opioid overdose. The class findings, which were presented at the American Public Health Association 2016 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Denver, suggest simple public policy changes could reduce the opioid overdose death rate.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called opioid abuse an epidemic. In 2014, opioid overdoses reached a record high, claiming 47,055 lives. Opioids, including both prescription drugs and illicit substances such as heroin, are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths.

New Proposals for Reducing Opioid Deaths

The class, led by Elizabeth Van Nostrand, JD, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, spent a semester reviewing public policies that could reduce opioid overdose deaths. The review produced a 122-page report highlighting five potentially effective measures:

  • Training inmates with a history of opiate abuse on the use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose
  • Collaborating with the Pittsburgh Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its community partners to offer naloxone access to vulnerable veterans and their families
  • Providing medication-assisted treatment options to inmates with opioid addictions
  • Expanding initiatives to share community and government data on opioid abuse and addiction treatment
  • Offering naloxone training and access to first responders and potential bystanders

The class found that people recently released from prisons and jails benefit the most from naloxone distribution programs. Former inmates are highly vulnerable to overdoses. Inmates who achieved sobriety while incarcerated often have difficulty remaining sober when they are released.

Van Nostrand’s class, Law in Public Health Practice, is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and tackles a public health policy issue each semester.

CDC Opioid Harm Reduction Recommendations

According to the CDC, 1 in 5 people with non-cancer pain receive an opioid prescription. Opioid prescriptions are so common that 91% of opioid overdose survivors continue to receive opioid prescriptions.

The CDC recommends doctors take the following precautions to reduce the risk of prescription opioid abuse:

  • Use nonopioid treatment for chronic pain. The CDC recommends providers encourage patients to consider therapy, which can help with chronic pain.
  • Prescribe the lowest effective dose of opioids, and slowly increase the dosage if necessary.
  • Continually follow up with patients to ensure opioids are not harming them. Doctors should also help patients slowly taper down their dosage when they are ready to stop using opioids.


  1. CDC guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. (2016, March 16). Retrieved from
  2. Guideline information for providers. (2016, October 18). Retrieved from
  3. Injury prevention and control: Opioid overdose. (2016, October 17). Retrieved from
  4. Policy to prevent opioid overdose presented at national meeting. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. Understanding the epidemic. (2016, June 21). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Tucker

    November 8th, 2016 at 4:20 PM

    Great measures that should expand immediately!

  • Glenda

    November 10th, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    I think that the reason why this has gotten so out of control is that we did not realize until really it was past being too late that these pain killers are just as addictive and available as other street drugs with which we have always been afraid of. But we though this is a prescription so it can’t be that harmful. And before we even knew it there are millions with an addiction that they will never be able to overcome on their own. It is scary to think how these addiction numbers have just exploded over the past several years and until the medical and drug industries get some kind of hold over this the numbers are only going to continue to grow.

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