ERs work to curb the opioid abuse epidemic

The abuse of opioid painkillers and heroin is becoming a major public health crisis as it rages across the U.S., leaving a trail of overdose deaths and ruined lives in its wake. And Massachusetts hospital emergency departments--and the federal government--are taking action.

A group of Massachusetts physicians, including Peter Holden, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Plymouth, worked together to create an ambitious nine-point plan to fight the spread of opioid addiction and reduce the strain on hospitals posed by widespread drug addiction, according to Hospitals & Health Networks.

The plan, outlined in detail on the Massachusetts Hospital Association's website, calls for ER clinicians to develop a process to screen for substance abuse, a process to coordinate the care of patients who frequently visit emergency departments and prohibits ER clinicians to provide prescriptions for controlled substances that were lost, destroyed or stolen.

All 51 Massachusetts Hospital Association member hospitals with emergency departments have put the recommendations into practice. They aim to extend these practices to all hospital and health system outpatient clinics as part of the second phase of the project. The third phase will target private medical offices.

"We are making a difference," Holden told H&HN. "In my own community, I am just getting sick and tired of going to wakes and funerals for people of all ages who have succumbed to the opiate and heroin crisis, and I hope it is not as bad in your communities, but it mushroomed in ours."

It is a national crisis. Hospitals and healthcare institutions around the country are fighting the problem, which sent 100,000 people to emergency departments in 2011 alone. Overdoses and chronic addiction are costly and difficult to treat, straining the budgets and resources of many hospitals.

This morning the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is providing $94 million to health centers throughout the country to help treat prescription opioid and painkiller abuse.

The funding will increase the number of patients screened for substance use disorders and connected to treatment, increase the number of patients with access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT)  for opioid use and other substance use disorder treatment, and provide training and educational resources to help health professionals make informed prescribing decisions. The agency said the $94 million investment will help centers  hire approximately 800 providers to treat nearly 124,000 new patients.

"Addressing the opioid crisis is a top priority for the Administration and the Department," according to the announcement. "The Department is focused on three key areas: improving opioid prescribing practices, increasing the use of naloxone, and increasing access to MAT."

To learn more:
- read the H&HN article
- here's the MHA plan
- read the HHS announcement