Hospital Chain Seeks To Massively Cut Opioid Prescriptions

By Paul Gaita 08/31/17

The chain also plans to expand the availability of pain management clinics and treatment resources for those with opioid addiction. 

Doctor holding a prescription bottle and a pen.

CNBC has reported that a non-profit chain of hospitals is planning to reduce the number of opioid painkillers it prescribes to acute pain patients by 40% by the end of 2018.

Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based non-profit health system with 22 hospitals and 180 clinics, pledged to cut back its annual prescriptions of 12.5 million at all of its locations by more than five million tablets each year. Directors for the organization assured the public that patients with acute or chronic pain will still receive the medications they need, but will use a variety of new policies and expanded caregiver training to achieve the sought-after reduction. 

The decision was prompted by what the organization's associate medical director, Dr. Doug Smith, described as a national trend for doctors to overprescribe painkillers. "Providers tend to write prescriptions for more opioids than patients need, and large quantities of the medications are often left over after the need for pain relief is past," he said.

A recent survey of adults who reported misusing opioids found that 60% did not have a prescription, and nearly half of the respondents obtained non-prescription drugs from friends or relatives.

Intermountain Healthcare will use a variety of strategies to implement its prescription reduction. Dr. Marc Harrison, president and CEO of the organization, said that it will use a "data-driven approach" to track prescriptions, and will also add prompts and default order sets into its electronic health records to cut back on the number of tablets in each prescription.

Training has already been provided to about 2,500 caregivers within the Mountain system, and will soon expand to additional prescribers throughout Utah and Idaho. "We will follow best practices in prescribing so the medications prescribed more closely match the needs of patients," said Dr. Smith.

The organization also plans to expand the availability of pain management clinics and treatment resources for those struggling with opioid dependency issues, and has worked closely with the Utah Department of Health and state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to further educate providers and patients alike on prescription guidelines, while also supporting community initiatives to properly dispose of left-over medication.

Dr. Harrison admits that Mountain's goal of a 40% reduction is "big," but also notes that "our communities and the people in them are suffering, and we need to do something about that." Statistics from list Utah as having the seventh-highest rate of drug overdoses in the United States, with six state residents dying each week from opioid overdose.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.