Maryland medical center aims to cut opioid prescriptions in half

WASHINGTON — Take the number of opioids doctors prescribe today, and chop it in half. That’s what one area hospital system wants to accomplish by 2019 to help fight the opioid crisis, and it is already making progress.

“The physicians in this health system understand and take seriously the link between opioid prescribing and subsequent opioid dependence, addiction and even the use of street drugs,” Anne Arundel Medical Center’s Dr. Barry Meisenberg told WTOP.

“We believe that we need to be part of the solution.”

About a year ago, the hospital center did a study of the prescribing patterns of doctors in three areas: the emergency room, primary care, and orthopedics and sports medicine.

It found a lot of variation in the number of opioids prescribed from doctor to doctor.

Meisenberg, who is director of the hospital’s Center for Healthcare Improvement, said hospital leaders knew it was a problem they had to fix. A task force determined that some standardization of opioid prescribing was needed.

“The public should understand that our goal in this is not to deny anyone who needs opioids a prescription, but rather to rightsize the prescription,” he said.

“Because there are numerous medical studies which show that sometimes we overprescribe, and the unused medication sticks around in people’s medicine cabinets where it can be later abused by a patient or their family member, or even stolen and used by other people, sold on the street,” said Meisenberg.

He said they’ve already reduced opioid prescriptions by nearly 60 percent this year in both the emergency room and orthopedics and sports medicine, and the system’s primary care doctors have cut back by about 25 percent.

Despite the reductions, patient satisfaction has not changed.

“We have found that patients actually appreciate this increased attention to this issue because they’ve seen the same news stories,” he said.

“They all seem to know people who have a problem or know of someone who overdosed. We’re also offering enhanced access to our substance abuse treatment facilities, knowing that there are many patients who have been on these drugs for so long, they will find it hard to get off or even to get lower should they want to do that,” Meisenberg added.

The next step is to expand the effort to other departments, although Meisenberg said cancer patients and those getting end-of-life care are excluded.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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