Phoebe tackles opioid epidemic with new strategies

Overdoses have spiked in recent years (Source: WALB)
Overdoses have spiked in recent years (Source: WALB)
Updated: Jan. 10, 2018 at 8:11 PM EST
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Hospital leaders are changing policies (Source: WALB)
Hospital leaders are changing policies (Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Phoebe Putney Health System leaders are taking new approaches to fighting the deadly opioid epidemic.

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Leaders said the new policies to prevent over-prescribing drugs are just part of the battle, and that education also goes a long way.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of patients that are coming in for overdoes and, also, the amount of deaths from overdose, not only nationwide, but in our home state," said Phoebe Health Systems Medical Director for Emergency Services James Black.

Black said 203 overdose patients showed up to Phoebe ERs during 2017.

"It's absolutely paramount that we do what we can," explained Black.

Leading the charge, Black has implemented new policies throughout the health system to ensure patients don't get their hands on more drugs than they need.

"Realizing there's been a swing in the pendulum in how we address acute pain and how much pain medicine may be necessary, a lot of it involves education, not only in the community but the healthcare community as well," Black said.

Those policies fall in line with new Georgia state laws that address opioid abuse. Black said, now, providers will be required to enroll in a prescription drug monitoring database.

Prescribers will have to seek and review information from the program when giving out opioids or other potentially addictive painkillers, to prevent over-prescribing medication.

But Black said when one drug source gets stricter, abusers will find easier ways to get them. So, he's trying to work with other hospitals and use outreach and education to prevent that.

"They've all been willing to share saying this is our strategy," Black said. "We've been saying this is our strategy too, we've got to approach it because patients, with that kind of behavior, are willing to travel."

It's a struggle that has been taking lives for years that Black intends to fight well into the future.

Phoebe has also created a special committee to look into how the hospital manages both short and long-term pain. The new policies used to be suggestions, but are now part of the health systems employment agreement.

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