Intermountain Healthcare pledges to reduce opioid prescribing by 40 percent

FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows pills of the painkiller hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. Accidental overdoses aren't the only deadly risk from using powerful prescription painkillers _ the drugs may also contribute to heart-related deaths and other fatalities, according to research published Tuesday, June 14, 2016. "As bad as people think the problem of opioid use is, it's probably worse," said Wayne Ray, the lead author and a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University's medical school. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Opioid misuse and abuse has exploded into a national health crisis and Intermountain Healthcare has announced it plans to do something about it.

The Utah-based network of 22 hospitals and 180 clinics has pledged to reduce by 40 percent the average amount of opioids prescribed by the end of 2018.

According to Dr. Todd Brown, Medical Director at Logan Regional Hospital, one challenge is that doctors have routinely written prescriptions for more pills than patients really need.

“That’s right, and I think we do that as a means to try to make sure that they have what they need and then ofttimes the refills aren’t available with these opioids, so we would give them maybe more than they absolutely need just so that out of convenience we don’t have to re-prescribe them or that in a long weekend or holiday that they will have enough. So we tend to give them more than is absolutely necessary.”

To achieve the 40 percent reduction Intermountain has already provided training to about 2,500 caregivers within its system with plans to expand training to additional prescribers in Idaho and Utah communities.

Intermountain announced a more concentrated effort will be made to find effective enough non-opioid medicines.

“As we understand pain, we know that opioids are certainly an efficient and effective way to treat pain,” said Dr. Brown. “But as we have seen in some other ad campaigns, sometimes a non-narcotic pain reliever may be just as good and we’ve been encouraged as patients to consider that with our doctors. Is there an option that’s not an opioid option that might be safer than relying on the opioid for the truly difficult cases?

Intermountain also plans to expand other services, such as pain management clinics and treatment resources for opioid use disorders, to better help patients with chronic pain or addiction.

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