Debra Houry, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and a former associate professor in Emory’s Department of Emergency Medicine
- As an emergency room doctor at Grady Hospital for 15 years, Houry’s views on the opioid epidemic have evolved. “Some say ‘We never saw it coming.’ I will say, ‘I kind of saw it coming,’” she said. Over the years, Houry saw a rise in patients arriving for opioid abuse, addiction issues, substance abuse disorders and referrals for pain management.
- There are now about 230 million prescriptions for opioids administered in the U.S. on an annual basis. “That’s enough for every single adult to have a bottle of pills around the clock for three weeks,” Houry said. “That’s too much.”
- About three years ago, Houry took on a CDC project to outline “Opioid Prescribing Guidelines for Chronic Pain,” which has helped decrease opioid prescriptions over the last two years. While the guidelines advocate prescribing non-opioid medications for chronic pain first, “we’re still at three times (opioid prescriptions) what we were at in 1999,” she said. “My concern is we primed the pump, so a lot of people became addicted to prescription pills and have then gone on to misuse heroin and now fentanyl, which we know is just killing people due to its potency.”
- The CDC is now funding prevention programs across the country that work with health systems to employ syndromic surveillance to help identify non-fatal overdoses in emergency departments. The data are then used to issue health advisories and activate agencies to a quest to prevent fatalities. “My goal is to prevent people from getting addicted in the first place,” she said.