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As I wrote about last month, President Trump has declared a state of emergency regarding the pervasive nature of opioids on the black market, claiming victims of addiction left and right as overdoses, both intentional and accidental, lead to death. Because of its ubiquity, members from every rung of society are susceptible, from the poorest neighborhoods of Baltimore to the most highly-decorated military admirals. Drug take-backs are helping community members reduce the supply of opioids on the black market, but the government and the medical communities have some work of their own to do, as well.

Doctors have been looking into ways to ensure that opioid prescriptions do not lead to addictions. Frequently, what begins as a well-intentioned prescription to reduce pain after severe injuries or serious surgery becomes a deadly chemical dependence. Legally, doctors now face steeper consequences for negligent prescribing practices and have to defend with vigor every script the produce.

Pharmacogenomics is offering doctors a new way to ensure that their prescriptions are appropriate not only for the pain but also for the patient’s genetic composition. As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, a person’s genes can influence the perception of pain and the vulnerability to addiction. Depending on a gene variant, a patient’s body may break certain chemicals like opioids lightning fast or not break them down at all. There’s an old saying in pharmacology that the only difference between a cure and poison is dosage, and that’s exactly what further research on pharmacogenomics for opioids is capitalizing on.

The researchers are hoping to be able to implement some of their findings as early as 2018 to reign in the crisis and help deliver the right dosage to the right patient.