AACC released a position statement today calling for increased collaboration between clinical laboratories, the healthcare community, and federal agencies to end the opioid epidemic. The statement emphasizes that labs are critical to preventing opioid abuse and urges the medical community and government to leverage the expertise of clinical laboratory professionals to curb soaring drug overdoses in the U.S.
From 2016 to 2017, fatal overdoses caused by synthetic opioids jumped by 46%, a surge that contributed heavily to the more than 70,000 drug overdose-related deaths in 2017. Synthetic opioids are so deadly because of their extreme potency, but also because common tests often can’t detect them. This makes it difficult to determine whether synthetic opioids are the cause of a drug overdose and to detect when a patient is abusing synthetic opioids. Laboratories with the appropriate experts and the right instrumentation and tests can identify many synthetic opioids that would otherwise be missed. Without this information, patients might not get crucial addiction or overdose treatment. Clinicians especially need to know if an overdose is due to a long-lasting synthetic opioid, because in these cases patients may need additional doses of the opioid antidote naloxone to prevent a relapse of overdose symptoms. Public health officials also need to know which specific drugs people are using in their locales in order to predict overdose outbreaks and rapidly coordinate preventive efforts.
To improve the nationwide response to synthetic opioids, AACC urges clinical care teams to include laboratory experts, and encourages Congress and federal agencies to enhance labs’ ability to identify new drug use trends. Laboratory experts have extensive knowledge about the appropriate use and limitations of drug tests, and can provide guidance to clinical care teams on test ordering and result interpretation so that addiction and overdose patients get the best treatment. Lab experts have also developed sophisticated tests that detect the newest synthetic opioids. AACC recommends that the Food and Drug Administration expedite regulatory approval for these tests so that all healthcare facilities can use them.
Additionally, the association calls on Congress to fund an increase in the number of laboratories that identify synthetic drugs at the state and local level. Congress should also fund the development of partnerships that rapidly share synthetic opioid data between forensic, public health, and clinical labs, and relevant government agencies. This will ensure that strategies to combat opioid abuse are based on the most timely, comprehensive data possible.
“Clinical laboratories are often the first to identify synthetic opioids used on the streets and can provide much-needed expertise about the wide range of chemicals in these drugs and the frequency of their use in local communities,” said AACC CEO Janet B. Kreizman. “If healthcare providers and the government work closely with lab experts as AACC recommends, overdose victims and patients with addiction problems will get the vital care they need.”