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San Diego Hospitals Adopt New Painkiller Policy

— San Diego and Imperial County hospitals have a new policy aimed at curbing the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Patients going to emergency departments will feel the difference.

Patients hoping to score prescription painkillers from San Diego and Imperial County hospital emergency departments need to think again.

Health officials say the problem of prescription painkiller abuse has gotten out of hand.

Dr. Eric McDonald, San Diego County's deputy public health officer, said 269 San Diegans died of prescription drug overdoses last year.

"For every death, there are 20 people coming into emergency departments, there are hundreds of people that are actually abusing prescription pain medicines," McDonald said.

Under the new voluntary guidelines, emergency departments will no longer dispense 30-day-supplies of narcotics like Vicodin.

And they won't prescribe long-term painkillers like OxyContin, either.

Scripps Mercy Hospital's Dr. Roneet Lev explained why.

"Those are especially dangerous, more dangerous than the short-acting medications," Lev said. "And in someone who comes to the emergency department, a broken bone, a ruptured appendix, anything like that, you don't need long-acting pain prescriptions, you need something for short term."

Lev said people who legitimately suffer from chronic pain need to get their drugs from their regular doctor, not emergency departments.

"And our policy is not to refill prescriptions, and not to give prescriptions for someone who's getting them elsewhere," Lev said. "The safe way about it is to have one provider, and one pharmacy, for any pain prescriptions. And we're going to honor that."

Prescription drug overdoses are the No. 1 cause of accidental death in San Diego County.

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