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UA study to predict who will abuse opioids

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-09 21:33:19-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Opioid abuse is a growing problem, with street drugs, and legal prescriptions.  Now a  University of Arizona researcher is working to help identify people most likely to abuse their prescriptions.

 Powerful pain pills have been a blessing for people in unending pain, but a curse for those who fall into addiction.  Use of the pills has zoomed.   

UA Pharmacy Professor Jenny Lo-Ciganic says, “In the past ten years the sales increased over 400 percent."

Now Doctor Lo-Ciganic is working to develop better ways to track opioid use and predict who will abuse them.

 Desperate drug users may go from doctor to doctor and get bottle, after, bottle, after bottle of pills.

Doctor Lo-Ciganic earned a 100 thousand dollar grant to analyse Medicare data.  She says Medicare is not just for older Americans.  Disabled people may get Medicare benefits too.

 "They have much higher proportion of opioid use and potentially improper opioid use."

 The study's going to use advanced computer techniques companies like Google and Amazon have been sharpening over time.  It's machine learning where the more data you process through a computer the better it gets at at turning out useful results.

Mental health data could be just part of a system to flag patients as low, medium or high risk for opioid abuse so doctors can consider that when they prescribe.

 Doctor Lo-Ciganic says, “So in that way, they physician before they prescribe the opioid prescription they can have some sense if they are more likely to be misusing the medication they will be able to do some management."

And that management should ensure the pills solve pain problems without creating new problems of their own.