Healthcare News & Insights

6 keys for hospitals to fight opioid abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitals treat over 1,000 patients in the emergency department every day because they’ve misused prescription drugs. And more than 14,000 people die from overdosing on prescription opioids each year. Because of the growing problem of opioid addiction, hospitals are being called upon to do what they can to stop drug abuse. 

ThinkstockPhotos-122524533In response to these statistics, the American Hospital Association (AHA) worked with the CDC to release guidance about how hospitals can best prevent opioid addiction.

Strategies for prevention

To make a difference in reducing prescription drug abuse, hospitals must follow six critical steps:

  1. Ensure clinicians are educated about appropriate prescribing practices and that they’re correctly following the guidelines. It’s also crucial that clinicians are passing this information along to patients, educating them about the proper use of prescription medications both throughout their hospital stay and during discharge.
  2. Offer appropriate treatment options for patients with substance abuse disorder. If the facility can’t provide the treatment a patient needs, clinicians should be ready with referrals to offsite drug rehabilitation centers or programs.
  3. Make sure that patients who are treated for substance abuse disorder are properly discharged. Discharge instructions should include referrals or follow-up appointments at outside treatment centers.
  4. Handle individuals who exhibit drug-seeking behavior in the ED appropriately. This may mean taking a closer look at a patient’s medical history to see if this behavior is common, or monitoring how patients use their prescription drugs (e.g., whether they come in for a refill earlier than expected).
  5. Consider alternatives to pain management that don’t involve opioids. Many hospitals across the country are taking alternate steps to managing patients’ pain, including trigger-point injections and nonopioid pain medications.
  6. Be vigilant about preventing drug diversion. Patients aren’t the only ones with drug abuse problems. Hospital staff who have access to opioid painkillers may have addictions themselves, and they’ll steal medications to get their own fix – or to sell them on the streets. So hospitals must have a protocol in place to prevent diversion.

Per the AHA, hospitals should take these six factors in mind while looking at their policies and procedures for pain management to make sure they have clear guidelines on the appropriate use of opioids. Policies should be careful to strike a balance between making sure patients aren’t undertreated for their pain and avoiding the overuse of prescription pain medication.

Another key area that hospital policies about opioids must address: monitoring patients post-surgery for respiratory depression and over-sedation related to IV opioids used to relieve their pain. Protocols must be in place to keep these patients from suffering ill effects.

Teamwork matters

Besides revising their internal policies regarding opioid use, hospitals must also strengthen their external partnerships with other organizations such as law enforcement, primary care practices and drug rehab facilities to come up with comprehensive solutions for the opioid abuse epidemic.

Ultimately, it’ll take a significant team effort to stop people from developing drug dependencies and overdosing on medications, and hospitals must be up for the challenge.

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