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Scripps Opioid Program Aims To Prevent Next Wave Of Addiction

OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy, Feb. 19, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press

Above: OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy, Feb. 19, 2013.

In response to a nationwide opioid epidemic, Scripps Health has launched a program aimed at reducing their use of prescription opioids for pain management.

The Scripps Opioid Stewardship Program focuses on educating patients and medical staff about prescription opioids, tapering off use and creating safe and appropriate prescription practices among medical staff.

The program also places an emphasis on using nonopioid pain management treatments for patients. These range from nonopioid prescriptions, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to physical therapy and nonpharmaceutical techniques. The hospital is providing patients who undergo elective surgeries with pamphlets to educate them about these different pain management options.

“It seems like physicians ought to be leading and health care systems ought to be leading to try to do something to prevent more people from becoming opioid dependent,” said Valerie Norton MD, director of the emergency department at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego. “So, we decided to form an opioid stewardship committee where that would be our goal.”

Doctors will continue to prescribe some patients opioids to manage painful conditions. In those cases, the program aims at educating patients with opioid prescriptions about their risks, side effects, proper disposal of opioid medications and how they can return to normal health.

Common opioids that are prescribed to patients following surgery include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. A 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association said that about 6 percent of patients, prescribed opioids after routine surgeries, become addicted.

Scripps points to what they have said is an obvious public health crisis as their reason for launching the program.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that between 1999 and 2016 more than 350,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose, counting both illegal and prescription drugs. In 2016, 40 percent of the 42,000 fatal opioid overdoses involved prescription opioids.

The San Diego Regional Prescription Drug Task Force recorded 253 prescription drug overdoses in 2016. Eighty percent of those involved an opioid prescription.

“More than 500 people a week are dying of opioid overdoses in this country. One in 25 adults in this country are addicted to opioids, and the way that health care contributed to this is that patients end up getting addicted to opioids when they are exposed to them through medical means," Norton said. “Physicians really have a public health duty to be involved in prevention. So we began our Opioid Stewardship Committee to try to prevent the next wave of patients from becoming addicted to opioids."

In a statement, Scripps added that they are “interested in joining forces with other organizations, including health systems, insurance companies, and rehabilitation centers. Scripps’ first focus is prevention for our patients, but we want to be out in the larger community as well.”

In response to a nationwide opioid epidemic, Scripps Health has launched a program aimed at reducing their use of prescription opioids for pain management.

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