To understand the scale of excessive prescription drug use in the United States, Gordon Schiff, MD, says to look no further than the opioid crisis.
“Overdoses on this type of painkiller accounted for tens of thousands of deaths in 2016, more than any previous year on record—and an estimated 40 percent involved a prescribed opiate,” says Schiff, associate director of the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Schiff notes nearly 50 percent of Americans take at least one prescription medication a month, with half of those individuals using three or more medications. He doesn’t assign blame for the nation’s drug issues on prescribers, but points to a complex set of variables—from pharmaceutical companies’ marketing tactics to a culture that favors medicinal quick fixes over longer-term behavioral changes. In recent years, Schiff says, a growing movement is questioning the widespread, liberal use of all types of prescription medications.
“The Brigham is known as a worldwide leader in drug policy and safety, as well as in the latest breakthroughs. This combination is so valuable…The Moore Foundation’s support helps maintain this vital balance.”
– Gordan Schiff, MD
“While physicians are well educated about the pharmacology of drugs and the latest treatments, they’re rarely taught principles for safe, effective, and cautious drug use, which leads to overprescribing and needless side effects and costs,” says Schiff.
With a grant of $2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Schiff is partnering with several healthcare institutions and medical schools to examine prescribing patterns for millions of patients, develop an online course for prescribers, and widely share conservative prescribing principles developed by his team.
“As a veteran national leader in patient safety research, Dr. Schiff is well positioned to create thoughtful prescribing practices that can help guide healthcare professionals in improving medication safety, particularly for people with serious illness and complex, chronic health conditions,” says Diane Schweitzer, MPPM, acting chief program officer of the Patient Care Program for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Schiff says, “The Brigham is known as a worldwide leader in drug policy and safety, as well as in the latest breakthroughs. This combination is so valuable: to be innovative but also critical and careful about what new drugs can and cannot do. The Moore Foundation’s support helps maintain this vital balance.”