One year after changing prescribing guidelines to reduce the prevalence of addictive opioids, community physicians and New Hanover Regional Medical Center have reported a reduction of opioid prescriptions by almost 20 percent – resulting in more than 836,000 fewer pills distributed in the community.
At the same time, opioid overdose visits to the NHRMC Emergency Department have been cut by more than half through 10 months of 2018 – encouraging news for a community two years ago cited by a national study as home of the nation’s worst opioid problem.
“When a community decides to come together, you see results like this,” said Dr. Kevin Cannon, Chair of NHRMC Opioid Task Force. “This is a result of our doctors, pharmacists, nurses and especially our patients’ efforts. This is a win, and not just because of the reduction of opioid pills in our community. This is about saving lives, and I couldn’t be more proud. We still have a long way to go and many other factors to address, but we are proving we can make a difference in the community we serve.”
The NHRMC health system, NHRMC Physician Group and community physicians implemented new prescribing policies beginning Oct. 12, 2017. In the 12 months since, more than 19,000 fewer opioid prescriptions have been dispensed through NHRMC, and the number of patients prescribed opioid alternatives has increased by more than 700 percent.
Prescriptions for Naloxone, which can reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose, increased over those 12 months from 168 to 576, an increase of almost 250 percent. This means that more people in our community have immediate access to this life saving medication.
Meanwhile, from January through October, opioid overdose-related visits to NHRMC’s Emergency Department dropped to 72, down from 155 during the same time period in 2017.
The catalyst for these improvements was the Medical Executive Committee adopting guidelines that encouraged physicians to balance safe and effective pain-management. This resulted in opioids prescribed less often, for less duration and with fewer pills. It also promoted more use of non-opioid therapy.
NHRMC has also been participating in community-wide opioid reduction efforts along with law enforcement, the courts, county government and other non-profit partners. Additional permanent medication drop boxes have been added at the NHRMC Outpatient Pharmacy, ED-North and Pender Memorial Hospital, and a medication takeback event Oct. 28 at 17 sites in six counties collected two tons of medications community members no longer needed.