CNY hospitals join pilot program to reduce opioid use in ERs

Nov 26, 2018

A group of 17 hospitals across upstate New York are participating in a pilot program meant to cut down on the number of opioid prescriptions given out after a visit to the emergency room.

For years, people who came to the ER with low back pain got a prescription for opioids. But with the state in the midst of an opioid addiction crisis, that has to change, according to Dr. Ross Sullivan, Medical Director of the Emergency Bridge Clinic at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. Upstate is one of the hospitals participating in the program. 

He said for too long, emergency room personnel were trained to use opioids to get people out of pain.

"The goal is to reduce people’s pain. It might not always be to eliminate pain. And that’s something that practitioners and patients need to understand. It’s about improving the pain, it's about reducing it, but it’s not about totally eliminating it.”

Sullivan said not only is handing out addictive drugs to the community dangerous, but it doesn’t work as well as other options.

"Most studies show that giving people ibuprofen and getting them to move and exercise actually increases functionality over people who take opioids."

Sullivan says there are still instances where opioids are necessary, but he says there are an array of alternatives for people who need pain relief.

"There’s Tylenol, Motrin. There's things like doing nerve blocks, other medicines like valium. These are other medications that we’re able to use as emergency doctors, but don’t often think about using because for years we were trained or led down the path of just giving opioids to get people out of  pain.”

Sullivan says if the ER could cut back on opioid prescriptions by 20 or 40 percent, the pilot, promoted by the Iroquois Healthcare Association, would be considered a success. Sullivan would ultimately like to see a statewide initiative that all hospitals have to follow.

"Just getting a less amount of pills out in the community is a good thing. And that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Other central New York hospitals participating in the program include Crouse Health, St. Joseph's Health, and Oswego Health. Rome Memorial Hospital, Mohawk Valley Health System in Utica and Samartian Hospital in Watertown are also participating.