Yesterday, I read about the Chamber of Commerce breakfast with the Western Maryland Legislative Delegation. I was unable to attend since I was on vacation. During the breakfast meeting, one of the delegates commented on the opioid crisis when asked what the state was doing about it. During his response, he said, "too many people are becoming addicted because physicians are prescribing too many opioid-based medications" and that this is a relatively new issue.
After reading the comment, I realized that not everyone really knows about what all we are doing to address this problem and that has to change. In response, over prescribing isn't a new issue; in fact, much has been done to reduce the amount of opioids being prescribed, especially here at WMHS.
The over prescribing evolved when health care regulators imposed what is known as the fifth vital sign in 2001, which was to control pain. As opioid addiction began to increase, hospitals and physicians began to move away from such requirements and worked to address pain in other ways. Controls both self-imposed and those imposed by medical staff leadership at WMHS have been put in place in the Emergency Department, Surgery, our Pain Clinic, and in all of the WMHS clinics and practices. Are there over prescribers out there; of course there are, but the more egregious offenders, who are very few in number, are known to law enforcement and are being closely monitored. Dr. Jerry Goldstein, WMHS Chief Medical Officer, is having a list compiled through the Maryland state registry that monitors opioid prescribing, as well as through other sources, of those independent physicians and dentists who are considered to be prescribing beyond newly established standards. Once that list is completed, Dr. Goldstein will meet with each practitioner individually.
Recognizing that this crisis was only going to get worse, the Western Maryland Health System convened its first community-wide meeting to address the opioid / heroin epidemic in our area in August. Representatives from law enforcement, the State's Attorney's office, the Health Department, the Finan Center, the EMS community and WMHS met for nearly two hours to learn from each other as to the challenges that we each face and to plan the next steps needed to address the many issues.
It is interesting to note that during that meeting, one representative commented that because there are so many controls on the prescribing of opioids by doctors and the hospital, those who were addicted to painkillers have become our newest heroin addicts.
The meeting was an open and frank discussion. It was so well received that a second meeting was held in December and with representatives from the dental community, the Allegany County Board of Education, the Greater Cumberland Committee (TGCC) and local pharmacists being invited to join the group. A third meeting has been scheduled for February.
During the December meeting, we talked about many topics, including:
- the amount of crime being committed in our community that is drug related
- the inadequacies of the State Crime lab for drug testing and how that ties the hands of law enforcement when arrests need to be made
- the idea of having crisis counselors ride along with EMS and the police
- the number of active Health Department and community programs that are available to wean those addicted off of opioids
- the drug court concept for drug offenders
- the availability of Narcan to law enforcement and EMS and how lives have been saved through its availability
- the new drugs that we are seeing in the ED that may be a danger to anyone who comes in contact with them from police to EMS to ED providers
- the amount of education that is going on throughout the community by Sheriff Robertson and others on the use and abuse of opioids
- the business community's involvement in the issue through an upcoming Greater Cumberland Committee meeting to address the issue throughout the tri-state region.
There has been a great deal of interest as well as action that continues to occur throughout our region on this subject. After reading yesterday's Chamber breakfast comment, an invitation to the Western Maryland Legislative Delegation to attend our February meeting is in order. As our progress evolves, there will be more to follow.