IHC Shares Progress On Opioid Epidemic, “We’re Still Pushing Ahead”

Feb 20, 2019, 6:21 PM | Updated: 8:20 pm

MURRAY, Utah – Last year Intermountain Healthcare reduced the number of opioids it prescribed to patients by nearly a third, while still offering help for pain.

The healthcare system wanted to make a positive impact on the opioid epidemic in Utah. Statewide, Utah saw a 9% reduction, and a drop in opioid-related deaths.

A year and a half ago Intermountain Healthcare set out to reduce the number of opioids their doctors were prescribing for acute pain by 40%. It has not met that goal.

It has made a reduction of 30%, so far, and aspires to keep moving in the right direction.

A Utah mother who lost her son to an opioid overdose likes the progress that she sees.

“Billy liked to read. He was an avid reader,” said Kelly Howard, who lost her son, Billy, to an opioid overdose five years ago. He was 26.

“It happened so quickly,” she said. “If he was dabbling in it. You can’t dabble in it.”

Billy’s father died from an opioid overdose 10 years earlier, she said. But, his sister has been in successful opioid recovery 14 years.

“You try and save them and you can’t do that,” she said. “Families are in chaos when this occurs. You don’t know what to do. Some families have kids out on the street.”

Using some tough love, she once left her son in jail nine days.

“It was the hardest thing I ever did as a mom,” said Howard. “But, I thought this would be his bottom. And it wasn’t enough.”

Six people die every week in Utah from an opioid overdose. Along with the deaths, there is now an awakening in the community.

“People are now more aware of this then they ever have been, and the risk of addiction, and the risks of dying from it,” said Dr. David Hasleton, chief medical officer for Intermountain Healthcare.

Last year, Intermountain cut the number of opioids prescribed by 3.8 million tablets. Statewide there was a 12% decrease in opioid deaths after a 9% reduction in opioid prescriptions written from 2016 to 2017.

Utah Health Department numbers for 2018 are not out yet.

“We’ve made significant progress,” said Hasleton. “Where are we today? We’re still pushing ahead, and we get less and less pushback from our providers and from patients than we ever have before. It’s actually a collaborative effort, and people are saying to us ‘what can I do to join the cause?'”

Hasleton said doctors’ conversations with patients about the dangers of opioids has had the greatest impact.

“I’ve seen that patients now have the ability to ask questions,” he said. “They’re asking us, ‘Doctor is this the right thing for me? Or, do I need that many?’”

“We really don’t want patients to be in pain,” said Lisa Nichols, Intermountain Healthcare Community Health Associate Vice President. “We want to do the right thing. We want to treat their pain. But we want to do it safely.”

As a mother who lost a son, Howard said she believes fewer pills leads to fewer overdoses.

“It’s saving lives,” she said. “I truly feel it’s saving lives, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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IHC Shares Progress On Opioid Epidemic, “We’re Still Pushing Ahead”