PROVIDENCE – As the number of unintentional overdoses involving prescription drugs continues to climb in the U.S. and especially in Rhode Island, emergency medicine physicians from throughout the Lifespan health system are formalizing the way they treat chronic pain to limit opioid medication misuse and abuse.
Lifespan, the state’s largest health system, has implemented a formal set of guidelines for its emergency departments at Newport Hospital, The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital that sets the stage to limit inappropriate use of opioids for treatment of chronic noncancer pain and better coordinate care with the patient’s primary care physician.
“Deaths from accidental prescription drug overdose and narcotic addiction have become a major public health problem,” said Dr. Brian Zink, chief of emergency medicine at Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals. “Unfortunately, more people die from opioid medication overdose than from automobile accidents. Just last year, more than 180 Rhode Islanders died from an unintentional overdose, the majority from prescriptions drugs.
“Every day, coming through the doors of our emergency departments, there are people in pain who need treatment, but also people who are addicted to narcotic medications. Our clinicians have a duty to responsibly care for both groups. For those who are addicted and seeking opioids in the emergency department, prescribing more narcotics is not good care.”
Because of the severity of the issue of opioid abuse in Rhode Island (the state is ranked as having the 13th-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country, as well as the highest in New England), the state Department of Health is supportive of the work being done by Lifespan.
“Prescription drug overdose death is the leading cause of premature death in adults in Rhode Island,” said Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health. “These Lifespan guidelines, along with physician use of the prescription monitoring program every single time they prescribe narcotics and other powerful drugs will go a long way toward stopping this epidemic.”