SALT LAKE CITY — In 2015, Utah began the ‘Use Only as Directed’ campaign to help educate people and combat the opioid epidemic in Utah. Now, rebranded to ‘Know Your Script’ the impacts from the years long initiative are proving to be successful.
In August of 2017, Intermountain Healthcare implemented an opioid reduction plan as part of the statewide initiate. So far, almost 11 million fewer opioid tablets have been prescribed by Intermountain.
Last year, Intermountain began an opioid-free surgery program utilizing nerve blockers instead of opioids.
Patients who can take part in this type of surgery are feeling better sooner and going home quicker, Will Shakespeare, MD, medical director of surgical operations and director of anesthesiology for Intermountain, said.
“One of the greatest risk we have in performing surgery is not that the surgery will not have the intended benefit on the shoulder or on the gallbladder, the greatest risk is that at 90 days a patient who is not opioids before, will still be taking opioids,” he said.
Jason Zeeman ended up addicted to opioids after injuring his back about 20 years ago. It wasn’t easy to overcome his addiction, he said.
“No amount of opioids ever made me feel right. No matter how much I got, it just never filled the void I had created,” he said.
When he found out he needed surgery he was thrilled to learn about an option to do it without opioids.
“I had made the decision when I came in that I wasn’t even going to get them in my hands,” he said, “I kind of told the doctor, I said, if you want to give me opioids, give me your address and I will come rob you after you give them to me because that is where I go.”
This type of surgery does not work for all surgeries, Dr. Shakespeare said. It continues to be a struggle to find non-opioid ways to control pain. However, through the ‘Know Your Script’ initiative Intermountain has seen a 40 percent reduction in acute and 31precent in chronic opioid prescription, according to the hospital system.
“One of the things that I have seen that has been most beneficial in that is there is more of a right sizing of prescriptions to patients,” Dr. Shakespeare said.
It takes a village to make a difference, Kristy Jones, Sr. Consultant for Mental Well-Being at Community Health for Intermountain Healthcare, said.
Between 2015-2019, there has been a decline in the number of prescription overdose deaths in Utah, the Department of Health reports.
“We have strived to put strategies into place both educational, changing our prescription order catalog to reduce the quantity of opioid pills and the quantity of opioid prescriptions that our providers are writing and to really help them, help their patients really speak out and opt out,” she said.
Through the educational initiative, people are taught to speak out, opt out and throw out, Jones said.
“We really worked to teach people about asking their doctor about an opioid prescription,” she said.
There are dozens of drop boxes for people to properly dispose of unused prescriptions at Intermountain facilities. Since 2015, more than 45 thousand pounds of medications have been dropped off, according to Intermountain.
“Fewer opioids to the patient, means fewer get left over and end up in a medicine cabinets that end up getting used my grandkids or by friends or by those who may use them for diversion reasons,” Dr. Shakespeare said.
It is nice to see how seriously health leaders are beginning to take the opioid epidemic, Zeeman said. It would have been nice if they knew 20 years ago, what they know now, he said.
“I can appreciate that they are looking for a different way to help people like me or people who are younger who have never had opioid addiction, never have to go through that,” he said.
There is still a great deal of work to be done, Jones said.
“I think the biggest limitation is a struggle for people who are currently addicted to find, to want to get into treatment and then when they want to get into treatment to have treatment that is accessible and affordable and meets their needs,” she said.
For a list of prescription drop off boxes, click here.
For a list of resources for those suffering from substance abuse in Utah, click here
You can also call the Utah Crisis Line 24/7 at (800)273-8255 or 2-1-1.