1.1 Million Fewer Pills Distributed in Second Year After Opioid Guidelines Change

January 20, 2020
opioid task force success FINAL

Two years after changing prescribing guidelines to reduce the prevalence of addictive opioids, community physicians and New Hanover Regional Medical Center have reported a continued reduction of opioid prescriptions.

The raw number of prescribed opioid pills dropped by nearly 27 percent in year two compared to the baseline – resulting in more than 1.1 million fewer pills distributed in the community during the second year.

“We haven’t solved the opioid problem in our community, but after two years we continue to see positive results,” said Dr. Kevin Cannon, Chair of NHRMC Opioid Task Force. “We are grateful to the physicians, pharmacists and nurses who have helped support this important effort, and to the patients for seeing the value in our approach.”

The NHRMC health system, NHRMC Physician Group and community physicians implemented new prescribing policies Oct. 12, 2017, when the Medical Executive Committee adopted guidelines that encouraged physicians to balance safe and effective pain-management. This resulted in opioids being prescribed less often, for less duration and with fewer pills. It also promoted more use of non-opioid therapy.

In the two years since the change, the number of opioid pills has been reduced by 23 percent. The number of patients prescribed opioid alternatives has increased by more than 700 percent, reflecting the intentional shift to treating pain differently.

Prescriptions for Naloxone, which can reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose, continue to increase and were up to 783 in year two, an increase of 360 percent from the baseline. This means that more people in our community have immediate access to this life-saving medication.

NHRMC has also been participating in community-wide opioid reduction efforts along with other partners. Permanent medication drop boxes have been added at the NHRMC Outpatient Pharmacy, ED-North and Pender Memorial Hospital.

The community has partnered in this effort by participating in regional medication disposal events. NHRMC and partners collected nearly 6,000 pounds of medication at October’s disposal event, which was a 50 percent increase from the amount collected in April 2019. NHRMC also collected more than 42,000 syringes, up 48 percent from the prior year.

Visit nhrmc.org/medication-disposal for a full list of permanent drop box locations.