Intermountain Healthcare

What You Should Know About Opioid Medication – How Intermountain is Working to Ensure Patient Safety When Drugs Are Used

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(ABC4 Utah) How did Utah handle the COVID pandemic in terms of drug overdose deaths? Overall, Utah is not experiencing as significant of increase in all overdose deaths as reported in other states.

The CDC reports that the United States saw a 30.9% increase in all drug overdose deaths from January 2020 to January 2021 and Utah saw an 11.2% increase in overdose deaths. However, the number of fentanyl-involved overdose deaths has increased considerably over the last two years.

What is Intermountain Healthcare Doing to Help Patients?

Intermountain Healthcare is working to ensure that patients and communities can live the healthiest lives possible. Part of attaining this is to ensure that its providers prescribe opioid medications responsibly to ensure that patient safety is maintained.  

To address this and ensure that it’s doing all it can to improve patient safety, Intermountain has changed the quantities of opioid tablets prescribed for acute needs, such as surgery. 

“We are working to ensure that the strength of medications we provide to patients is most appropriate to meet their needs,” said Kim Compagni, assistant vice president of Intermountain Healthcare’s Pain Management Services. “These efforts help to reduce the risk of patients developing opioid use disorder, overdose, and even death.”

Intermountain Healthcare underwent a process in 2017 to work with physicians and mid-level providers to work as a team to reduce the number of opioid pills prescribed to patients to ensure patients were getting appropriate levels of medication. 

“Through this process, we have right-sized prescribing to better fit the need of the patient aligned with the procedure/pain need,” said Compagni.

Since this effort was initiated, Intermountain has prescribed over 11 million fewer opioid tablets, a 40% reduction in acute and 31% in chronic prescribing.

Intermountain is also actively working to address not only the number of pills prescribed by providers but also the potency of those medications. 

At the beginning of 2019, 11.2% of all opioid prescriptions from Intermountain providers were of high-dose opioids, or high morphine milligram equivalent (MME).

“What the community needs to know is that not all opioids are created equally,” said Compagni. “It’s like comparing apples to oranges, based on which opioid is prescribed, the strength of the opioid, and the frequency of the dose. All opioids have risks, but the risks increase as the potency increases.”

Several studies show that long-term opioids don’t improve pain relief and can contribute to significant risk, overdose, and side effects for patients.

Campagni recommends that you talk to your doctor or pharmacist about alternatives to opioids. If an opioid is needed, ask about side effects, the risk of overdose, and about naloxone. 

For more information, you can visit the Intermountain Healthcare website.

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