Addressing the opioid epidemic

Addressing the opioid epidemic

By Joshua T. Honaker, M.D., MBA

The staggering prevalence of prescription opioid abuse has emerged as a public health crisis. Those affected by the epidemic are being seen by our health care system, by our providers and — very likely — by you personally.

In 2017, the number of overdose fatalities in Kentucky increased 11%, totaling 1,565 as reported to the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics. Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any county in Kentucky — 426, up from 364 in 2016.

Overdoses and the consequences of addiction, including the spread of HIV and hepatitis, are associated with excessive health care use and increased costs for care.

We know that solving this problem will not be swift and cannot be done by us alone. Addressing the disease of addiction requires a comprehensive approach. Yet, as providers, we are in the unique position to help steer patients, their families and the affected community out of this epidemic.

As we uphold Norton Healthcare’s values to set the standard for quality and caring and to strive to continually improve care and service, we are moving ahead to promote cautious and responsible opioid prescribing practices.

Safe practices (universal precautions) in pain management can reduce the risk for abuse and addiction associated with chronic pain medications, especially opioids.

The following approaches have been implemented at Norton Healthcare:

  • Formation of a multidisciplinary controlled substance task force within Norton Medical Group
  • Physician and patient education regarding pain medications and their risk for addiction
  • E-prescribing of controlled substances through Epic
  • Prescription monitoring program
  • Guidelines for responsible prescribing and documentation
  • Referrals to pain and addiction specialists
  • CME programs concerning the heroin epidemic
  • Development of a provider dashboard
  • Routine feedback to providers on prescribing patterns compared with their peers
  • Instituted routine audits for regulatory compliance
  • $50,000 grant awarded to Norton Medical Group to further enhance patient and provider education

We also ask you to consider the following:

  • Be very judicious when deciding to start a patient on narcotics
  • Limit the amount of narcotics you dispense and duration of use
  • Consider alternative pain medications
  • Educate your patients regarding the risk of addiction
  • Conservatively manage pain, recognizing that the goal of achieving no pain is not always in the best interest of the patient
  • Sign up to e-prescribe controlled substances through Epic if you do not already have access

If you have any questions about the opioid epidemic, email me.

Joshua T. Honaker, M.D., MBA, is chief medical administrative officer for Norton Medical Group.