The American Medical Association and The Medical Society of New Jersey say their member doctors have been making consistent progress in helping to address — and hopefully reverse — the current opioid epidemic.

The AMA this month issued a new report documenting how physician leadership is advancing the fight against the opioid epidemic. The report, which is being released as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force meets for the first time, found a decrease in opioid prescribing and increases in the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs.

Medical Society of New Jersey spokeswoman Mishael Azam said doctors in New Jersey and elsewhere are doing their part in the opioid battle.

Tthe tide is turning on the physician role in opioid misuse and abuse," she said.

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"The role of prescription opioids contributing to opioid misuse and death is definitely going down. New Jersey has always had almost the lowest prescription rate of opioids across the nation," she said.

Azam said Jersey doctors are well aware of the opioid problem and have been changing their prescribing behaviors, opting to move patients toward opioid alternatives, "the one major gap that we see is, again, it comes down to insurance coverage."

"We hear from a lot of our physicians that they would love to put a patient on a non-opioid, or even a non-pill medication, but oftentimes access to alternatives like Lyrica or physical therapy or other things like that are ... not covered by insurance, and insurance usually does cover opioids," she said. "They are cheaper, unfortunately."

She said synthetic drugs and illegal drugs are taking the place of opioids in the larger world, and "diversion" — the misdirection of prescription opioids to non-patients — is still a huge problem.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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