A researcher from Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, just minutes from Guardian Recovery Network’s Delray Beach headquarters, was recently awarded a 5-year, $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate alternatives to the “one-size-fits-all” model for opioid prescriptions.

Dr. Janet Robishaw will work with a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Geisinger Health System and the University of Pennsylvania, located 50 miles from GRN’s Princeton Detox & Recovery Center that will open in spring 2018. They aim to identify the genetic indicators of prescription opioid use disorder, a critical area of study with little research on the subject.

Researchers will study the clinical and genetic characteristics of patients suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain who are prescribed opioids and use that information to develop an “addiction risk score.” This score will help differentiate the low-risk patients from the high-risk patients, the latter of whom will need access to treatment alternatives and additional counseling.

Chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts more than 3 to 6 months, is estimated to affect more than 25 million Americans. It’s a slippery slope: chronic pain is often treated with prescription opioids. Approximately 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids misuse them, and between 8 and 12% of those patients develop an opioid use disorder. In a matter of years, prescription opioid use has snowballed into a public health crisis that is wreaking havoc on the country.

The current one-size-fits-all approach to pain management is obsolete, and increased regulation of opioid prescriptions isn’t effective. There’s a real need to identify the clinical, genetic and neural characteristics of those who are at moderate- to high-risk of developing a prescription opioid addiction.

“The overall goal of this project is figuring out if there is a unique genetic signature of patients who are most susceptible to addiction,” said Robishaw. “In the first part of our study, we are looking at the clinical characteristics of these patients to understand the cause of their pain and how prescription opioids are affecting their outcomes.”

Researchers will survey patients on whether or not they’re showing signs of prescription opioid use disorder. For the second part of the study, they will analyze that data to complete a genome-wide association study. Distinguishing those genetic factors will eventually lead to the development of new types of drugs that treat chronic pain.

Solving the nationwide prescription drug epidemic calls for more than stricter regulations on prescribing practices. An effective solution requires a multifaceted approach that consists of research to provide alternative treatments, education and empowering patients to understand their risk and make more informed healthcare decisions.

While it’s important to change our philosophy on chronic pain management, it’s vital that we provide ample resources to rehabilitate those currently struggling with prescription opioid use disorder. With three treatment centers in South Florida and a brand new facility opening in early 2018 in Princeton, NJ, Guardian Recovery Network is actively trying to solve a crisis that has ravaged these particular communities. We understand the significance of a multifaceted approach to treatment, which we apply to each of our treatment plans, from detox to aftercare.