Why healthcare must treat opioid addiction like hospital-acquired infections

Prescription and pills
Hospitals could respond more effectively to the opioid crisis if they treat it like a hospital-acquired infection, experts say. (Getty/Gti337)

To more effectively respond to the opioid crisis, hospitals must treat addiction like other hospital-acquired conditions.

Hospitals and health systems will need to mobilize resources much like they did to improve antibiotic stewardship to reduce opioid overprescribing and change the approach to pain management, write Michael J. Schlosser, M.D., chief medical officer for the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) National Group; Ravi S. Chari, M.D., senior vice president for HCA Clinical Services Group; and Jonathan B. Perlin, M.D., Ph.D., president of clinical services and chief medical officer for HCA Healthcare, in a blog post for Health Affairs.

“Redefining continued postsurgical opioid use and addiction as a preventable harm and, therefore, an avoidable hospital-acquired condition, is an appropriate first step,” they wrote.

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The trio offered several steps that hospital leaders can follow to change the conversation around opioids:

  1. Engage senior leaders on pain management. In the short term, this can include regional educational summits and similar meetings, while including new strategies for pain management in employee manuals and onboarding materials.
  2. Audit prescribing patterns. Establish benchmarks and reporting protocols for opioid prescribing.
  3. Create a clear sales pitch that clinical leaders can use. Have a cross-disciplinary team that develops an approach, and add opioid awareness questions to patient safety culture surveys.

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The blog post is critical of industry efforts to minimize fault in the opioid epidemic. Some groups have tightened their rules in the wake of the addiction crisis; the Joint Commission released new pain management standards two weeks ago, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines aimed at curbing opioid prescriptions in 2016.

The CDC has also invested more than $28 million in improved data collection and to bolster prescription drug monitoring programs.