Hospitals toughen ED limits on painkiller prescriptions

Efforts to curb prescription drug abuse at hospital emergency departments appear to be spreading, as more hospitals sharply restrict their use of opioids to treat patients complaining of pain.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last month that patients at public hospitals would no longer be able to get painkillers like Oxycontin or methadone, and could receive no more than three days' worth of drugs including Vicodin or Percocet, The New York Times reported. Lost or stolen prescriptions cannot be refilled, according to the new guidelines.

Meanwhile, at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah, patients with chronic, recurrent conditions such as musculoskeletal pain, toothaches, kidney stones or migraines will first be offered non-narcotic medications, Ogden's Standard-Examiner reported today.

"No one should come to the emergency department with any expectation that they will receive pain medication," Janet Smith, emergency department director at Ogden Regional Medical Center, told the newspaper. "Misuse and abuse can cause serious medical and psychological complications."

McKenzie Health System in Sandusky, Mich., announced this weekend it would establish the first Oxy-free EDs in the state. Drugs including Oxycontin and Oxycodone would no longer be provided to chronic-pain sufferers, the hospital system said.

"We will try to control a patient's chronic pain with non-narcotic medications, and just as important, we will direct the patient toward resources that can help them achieve a long term solution for their chronic pain condition," Emergency Department Medical Director Mark Hamed said Sunday in a statement.

In a similar move last summer, hospitals in Milwaukee County, Wis., said they would stop offering Oxy in their EDs over the ensuing months, with an ED in nearby Racine also considering such restrictions, Oak Creek Patch reported in July.

To learn more:
-here's the Times report
-check out New York's new drug-dispensing guidelines (.pdf)
- read the Standard-Examiner article
- here's the McKenzie announcement
- read the Oak Creek Patch article