Hospitals Adopting Guidelines to Limit Opioid Prescriptions

Posted: Updated: Dec 21, 2016 05:54 PM
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Central Virginia hospitals are revising guidelines on how to prescribe opioids. Healthcare providers are trying to reduce the chances that someone is prescribed legal pain pills, but later becomes an addict.

Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and the University of Virginia Medical Center are establishing policies to only prescribe opioids when necessary, and explain their risks.

“The tragedy that we see all the time is the opioid overdoses,” Dr. Robert O’Connor at UVA said.

Providers are trying to prevent the addictions from even starting. “We're just being a little more cautious with the amount and who we prescribe pain medication to,” Dr. Erin Talman at Sentara Martha Jefferson said.

In March, the Centers for Disease Control, or the CDC, issued new opioid prescribing guidelines for emergency departments.

Both Sentara Martha Jefferson and UVA Medical Center emergency departments will stop prescribing long-acting opioids, like oxycodone and methadone, for chronic pain conditions.

“We prescribe those types of medications sparingly,” Talman said.

When opioids are necessary for acute pain, like after a car crash, doctors will only prescribe about three days of opioids at a time, or less than 20 pills.

“The thinking there is that if a patient needs more, that they would then go on to see their outside physician for referral,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor says doctors need to warn patients about addiction. “I don't think we're really going to stop the epidemic through prescribing practices or limiting our physician's ability to give medications, but I think we can educate the public and that's our role in this,” O’Connor said.

Doctors at Sentara Martha Jefferson's emergency department are having similar conversations. “We always have in-depth conversations about the risks and benefits of using opiate pain medication,” Talman said.

Providers feel the responsibility to handle the epidemic moving forward. “I think us being very vigilant and aware of when it's appropriate to use this medication and when it's not puts us on the front line of that,” Talman.

While emergency departments are working on these new opioid guidelines, they acknowledge that just changing prescribing guidelines won't end the opioid crisis.

Instead, they want to continue working with law enforcement and policymakers to have a comprehensive approach to this epidemic that is just continuing to spread here in central Virginia.

Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci responded to this article with the following statement: 

"I am encouraged by these steps from Sentara and UVa Health System.

The Center for Disease Control, Kaiser Family Foundation, and a volume of academic research demonstrate that the overprescription of opioid medication has directly contributed to the opioid epidemic. Given this consensus, I respectfully disagree with Dr. O'Connor's statement [to NBC29 on December 21, 2016] that:

'I don't think we're really going to stop the epidemic through prescribing practices or limiting our physicians' ability to give medications, but I think we can educate the public and that's our role in this.'

More selective prescribing practices are absolutely  essential to ending the opioid epidemic.

I look forward to our scheduled meeting with Sentara Martha Jefferson in early January and to receiving a response to my recent letter from UVA Health System."


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