Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System have significantly reduced the use of opioids for its patients, according to data released to News Channel 11.

MSHA reports it reduced the number of inpatient opioid daily doses by more than 40% in just a year’s time. In addition, MSHA’s numbers show emergency department opioid prescriptions dropped by 18% from 2016 to 2017.

“That tells me that we’re doing our job, but we need to continue to watch this and we need to move this to our outpatient facilities,” MSHA Board Member Dr. David May said. “We wanted to show the community that we’re concerned about this opioid crisis and that we are taking some actions, the best actions we can to minimize the use of opioids in our community.”

Wellmont reports a 4% decrease in inpatient opioid administrations over the course of a year, but a 14% reduction in opioid prescriptions at its emergency departments. A spokesperson said ED providers now have a goal “to use alternative pain agents instead of prescribing opioid prescriptions.”

MSHA reports an 18% reduction in its opioid prescribing rate in the ED, which the health system says is 26% below the national average. Dr. May says when doctors do prescribe opioids, they do so for shorter periods of time to avoid any risk of addiction.

“When patients leave, like when they leave an ED or a hospital, we don’t give them unlimited prescriptions like we used to,” Dr. May said. “The pain scores I don’t think are any worse. Now, I don’t have that data to share with you, but from what I understand anecdotally, people are just as satisfied, maybe more satisfied.”

Dr. May, a local anesthesiologist, says doctors are also relying on other kinds of pain treatment, including more local anesthesia instead of pain pills.

Wellmont reports its opioid reductions are especially noticeable in its pain management and urgent care facilities. The health system reports pain management cut opioids by 26% despite an increase in patients from one year to the next and urgent care decreased opioids by 31% during that time despite a similar increase in patients.

“We know that opioids certainly can be used, they are beneficial for certain patients, but that shouldn’t be the first thing or the only thing I go to,” Wellmont Medical Associates Chief Executive Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Combs said. “It’s interesting, you would think you would have patient complaints or patient issues. Patients are very much aware that this is an issue and it’s interesting to have patients say, ‘I don’t want an opioid. I don’t need this.’ and we agree with this.”

In primary care, Wellmont says as patient numbers increased by 23%, opioid prescriptions dropped by almost 19%.

Both health systems said their reductions are the result of multi-year initiatives.

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