The headlines about Prince's reported painkiller addiction have captured the nation's attention, but the stats on America's opioid crisis show that it's in no way surprising.
Opioid addiction claimed 28,000 deaths in 2014, half from painkiller prescriptions, the highest number on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of all Americans know someone addicted to opioids. As much as 80 percent of American workplaces are confronting worker-addiction issues. America consumes a vast majority of the world's opioid supply.
The medical community is not helping to slow the nationwide epidemic as much as it could, according to news reports this week that the main physician professional group, the American Medical Association, has been resisting FDA efforts to set guidelines for doctor training on painkiller prescriptions.
Something has to give, and there is one novel new approach to the opioid crisis that some pain management physicians are backing: a testing battery that combines genetic risk with other personal factors to identify patients at high risk of addiction before a potentially fatal prescription is written.
Spine and pain physician Dr. Ashish Shanbhag of the National Spine & Pain Centers is using a new gene-based test he believes can help identify patients who could be predisposed to addiction.
The test Shanbhag uses is made by Proove Biosciences, and it includes an algorithm that scores a patient's risk of addiction. But it's not just about genes. Sixty percent of the score a patient receives is based on testing for genetic markets associated with addiction, of which there are several, including COMT, dopamine receptors and the opioid MU1 receptor gene.
The other 40 percent of the addiction-risk score comes from personal factors: age, personal medical history, previous substance abuse and any history of depression (due to its links to drug use).
"I have used the test on hundreds of patients," said Shanbhag. "What I'm really trying to do is tailor the therapy toward your specific genes to make sure we optimize the medications we get for you."