6 ways hospitals can stem the opioid epidemic


As lawmakers grapple with funding programs to combat the opioid epidemic, public health officials have developed new guidelines to help hospitals and providers better communicate with patients about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids.

The American Hospital Association worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop the resource, which offers six ways hospitals can help end the nationwide opioid abuse epidemic:

  • Ensure there is clinician oversight in establishing prescribing practices and patient education initatives
  • Offer needed treatments or referrals for patients with substance abuse issues
  • Properly discharge patients who are dealing with substance abuse
  • Appropriately handle individuals who come to the emergency department seeking drugs, including implementing a prescription drug monitoring program
  • Review alternative medications for pain management
  • Guard opioid medications against diversion

Overprescribing opioids is one of the leading causes for the opioid abuse epidemic, FiercePracticeManagement reported. "Every day, hospitals see how misuse of and overdose from prescription opioids affects patients' families, loved ones and communities," AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said in an announcement. "We want patients to have open, honest conversations with their care providers about the best way to manage pain."

Meanwhile, legislators and political leaders are divided on the best policies to combat the epidemic on their end. A bill headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee would allocate $261 million to help fight opioid abuse, an increase of more than $120 million from last year, according to an article in STAT. The funds would bolster the CDC's prescription drug overdose program and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's treatment and prevention programs, with the increase in funding to beginning with the new fiscal year in October.

The governors of the six New England states--Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut--met in Boston Tuesday to discuss how to combat the opioid epidemic in the region, where in Massachusetts alone opioid-related deaths tripled in the last five years, reports The Wall Street Journal. "There is not an issue more pressing," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said at the forum.

At the forum, the six governors addressed each state's efforts to cut back on overprescribing and the danger posed by synthetic opiates like fentanyl. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said the state has seen a significant spike in fentanyl-related deaths in the past three months, and data from all six states shows that nearly 1,500 people died with fentanyl in their systems over the past year, according to the article. 

The Obama administration has proposed funding increased access to naloxone, used to treat overdoses, but Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill to make it more accessible, according to The WSJ, concerned that it would offer a safety net to addicts and prevent them from recovering.

To learn more:
- view the resource document (.pdf)
- read the AHA announcement
- visit the STAT article
- here's the WSJ article