While Texas has escaped the brunt of a U.S. opioid epidemic that has seen overdose deaths nearly quadruple since 1999, Houston-area health care providers and researchers are launching a new effort to explore solutions not only to America’s addiction to painkillers but growing concerns about the use of high-risk medications in the vulnerable geriatric population.

The inaugural Houston Medication Safety Symposium on Friday, April 28, will bring together a diverse group of health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and health care policy researchers, to gain new perspectives from national leaders in academia, the pharmaceutical industry and the federal regulatory arena. The free symposium will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Denton A. Cooley, MD and Ralph C. Cooley, DDS University Life Center, 7440 Cambridge St.

Although medications play an important role in the comprehensive treatment of chronic illnesses, research suggests that inappropriate medication use is prevalent and the main cause of increased medication-related long-term illness, death, and health care system costs.

“This is a time of great change in the way that we think about opioid medications and the way that we safely treat acute and chronic pain,” said symposium organizer Holly Holmes, M.D., director and associate professor of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at McGovern Medical School. “Clinicians need help in thinking through these complex issues, which prompted us to propose an annual symposium to empower clinicians and researchers to make a difference.”

Holmes added that the health care providers and institutions also must act now to curb overprescribing and overuse of medications in older adults.

“Harmful medication use and the overuse of medication, or polypharmacy, continues to rise, and is a significant cause of negative outcomes in people 65 and older,” she said.

Fellow symposium organizer Rajender Aparasu, Ph.D., FAPhA, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Health Outcomes and Policy at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, said geriatric medicine is complicated by a variety of factors related to the natural aging process, such as decreased metabolism of medications, cognitive decline, and the common presence of multiple diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

“Communication and collaboration among physicians, pharmacists, and everyone on the health care team are critical to avoid potential adverse drug events due to drug-drug interactions as well as mitigating risks of falls and other medication-related accidents that contribute to further decline in the patient’s health and quality of life,” Aparasu said. “The symposium will highlight the medication safety concerns and provide practice and policy solutions to address important issues like high-risk medications in the elderly and prescription abuse.”

The Phyllis Gough Huffington Endowed Lectureship and the UTHealth Consortium on Aging are the co-sponsors. The University of Houston College of Pharmacy and McGovern Medical School are hosting the symposium.

For more information about the symposium, visit the UTHealth Consortium on Aging events webpage.