WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Community physicians and New Hanover Regional Medical Center have reported a reduction of opioid prescriptions by almost 20 percent one year after changing prescribing guidelines on addictive opioids.
According to NHRMC, that means more than 836,000 fewer pills distributed in the community.
The hospital says opioid overdose visits to the NHRMC Emergency Department have been cut by more than half through 10 months of 2018.
“Encouraging news for a community two years ago cited by a national study as home of the nation’s worst opioid problem,” NHRMC wrote in a news release.
“When a community decides to come together, you see results like this,” said Dr. Kevin Cannon, Chair of NHRMC Opioid Task Force. “This is a result of our doctors, pharmacists, nurses and especially our patients’ efforts. This is a win, and not just because of the reduction of opioid pills in our community. This is about saving lives, and I couldn’t be more proud. We still have a long way to go and many other factors to address, but we are proving we can make a difference in the community we serve.”
Harold King owns King’s Pharmacy in Wilmington and has been a pharmacist in Wilmington for 41 years. He’s noticed a difference lately when it comes to opioid prescriptions.
“We saw a big decrease in the number of prescriptions for opioids after the legislature changed the law and encouraged or mandated lower limits on prescribing,” said King.
The NHRMC health system, NHRMC Physician Group and community physicians implemented new prescribing policies beginning Oct. 12, 2017. In the 12 months since, more than 19,000 fewer opioid prescriptions have been dispensed through NHRMC, and the number of patients prescribed opioid alternatives has increased by more than 700 percent.
King says he has not seen many prescriptions for Naloxone, the drug that reverses the symptom of an overdose,at his retail pharmacy.
“It’s rather expensive and that’s been a real drawback and barrier for people to get that,” said King.
But, NHRMC reports prescriptions for Naloxone increased over those 12 months from 168 to 576, an increase of almost 250 percent.
“The stigma is definitely being taken off both from the prescribing stand point and the patient stand point,” said Cannon.
Meanwhile, from January through October, NHRMC says opioid overdose-related visits to NHRMC’s Emergency Department dropped to 72, down from 155 during the same time period in 2017.
“The catalyst for these improvements was the Medical Executive Committee adopting guidelines that encouraged physicians to balance safe and effective pain-management,” NHRMC wrote in a news release. “This resulted in opioids prescribed less often, for less duration and with fewer pills. It also promoted more use of non-opioid therapy.”
NHRMC has also been participating in community-wide opioid reduction efforts along with law enforcement, the courts, county government and other non-profit partners. Additional permanent medication drop boxes have been added at the NHRMC Outpatient Pharmacy, ED-North and Pender Memorial Hospital, and a medication takeback event.