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New Guidelines Offer Six Ways Hospitals Can Stem Opioid Epidemic

AHA resource gets the message out

The American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed new guidelines to help hospitals and providers better communicate with patients about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids. The resource offers six ways hospitals can help end the nationwide opioid abuse epidemic.

CDC statistics indicate that more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2014. More than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments each day for misusing prescription opioids, according to government sources.

Across the country, hospitals are working to reduce the opioid-abuse epidemic, employing numerous strategies to fight this serious public health problem. To assist these efforts, the AHA and the CDC have created a new patient-education resource about prescription opioids. Developed with input from CDC subject-matter experts, as well as hospital clinical and behavioral health leaders, the two-page document outlines evidence-based information about the risks and adverse effects of opioids. It was designed to help facilitate discussions between health care providers and patients about these risks, as well as alternatives to opioids. In addition, the resource includes messages about how to store opioids and dispose of unused medications.

During a round of governance meetings in the fall of 2015, AHA members discussed the effect of the epidemic on their communities, as well as several important roles that hospitals can play in fighting it, such as:

  • Ensuring clinician education about and oversight of appropriate prescribing practices, which includes patient education
  • Offering treatment/referrals for patients with substance use disorder
  • Ensuring that patients treated for substance use disorder are properly discharged
  • Handling individuals with drug-seeking behavior in the emergency department (ED) appropriately, which includes the use of prescription-drug monitoring programs
  • Reviewing opioid alternatives to pain management
  • Safeguarding prescription opioids against diversion

The AHA encourage hospitals and medical staffs to consider using the patient-education resource as a tool to aid in conversations with patients before they are prescribed opioids; in discharge planning discussions with patients, especially with regard to medication reconciliation; and as an informational handout at a hospital or in an online patient portal.

The AHA also encourages hospitals and their medical staffs to consider using various pieces of the content in the following ways:

  • To encourage clinician discussions with patients about opioids, and consider incorporating information into electronic health records and clinician workflow
  • In social media messaging on hospital Facebook accounts, Twitter, or blog posts
  • In patient newsletters and other publications, as well as patient portals
  • At community events, such as when talking to Rotary groups or school assemblies about health issues
  • In outreach to traditional media when discussing how hospitals and/or health systems are addressing the opioid epidemic

In the document, the AHA notes that, on April 8, the Joint Commission issued a statement to dispel misconceptions about its standards for treating pain in hospitals and other institutions. The Commission clarified that it does not endorse pain as the fifth vital sign or require that pain be treated until the pain score reaches zero. Further, the standards support both pharmacological and nonpharmacological patient-centered approaches to treat pain.

Source: AHA Quality Advisory; June 7, 2016.

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