Turning back the tide of the opioid epidemic

Every day, hospital clinicians witness the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic on the patients, families and communities they serve. Prescription opioids can be a safe and necessary element of pain management, but they also carry significant risk for misuse, addiction, overdose and death. To prevent addiction and misuse, hospitals and health systems are collaborating with their communities to create coordinated responses.

In addition to advocating for policy changes and additional funding at the federal level, the American Hospital Association has provided a number of resources to help hospitals and health systems as they seek to address the opioid epidemic. These include a toolkit, resources for patient education developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and resources to help combat the stigma associated with substance-use disorder.

Declarations of the national opioid crisis as a public health emergency underscore the imperative of addressing this epidemic. The AHA toolkit "Stem the Tide: Addressing the Opioid Epidemic" provides guidance and information for hospitals and health systems on how they can partner with patients, clinicians and communities to address the problem. Developed with input from a multidisciplinary team of front-line clinicians and subject matter experts, the toolkit includes links to guidelines, training, webinars, reports and other resources. A second toolkit is in the works.

According to the CDC, opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016 and, on average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. To assist the hospitals across the country working to combat this epidemic, the AHA and CDC created a patient-education resource. Developed with input from CDC subject matter experts as well as hospital clinical and behavioral health leaders, this two-page document outlines evidence-based information about the risks and side effects of opioids. It was designed to help facilitate discussion between health care providers and patients about these risks, as well as alternatives to opioids. In addition, the resource includes messages about how to store opioids and dispose of unused medications.

Hospitals and health systems must promote a culture that fully understands that individuals with substance-use disorder are struggling with a brain disease. Stigma should not be a barrier to care, and that’s why the the AHA, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have worked together to raise awareness about the stigma associated with substance-use disorder and how it can have a negative impact on patients' efforts to seek treatment and live in recovery. The Providers Clinical Support System provides evidence-based training and resources to give health care providers the skills and knowledge they need to treat patients with opioid-use disorder, and offers ways medical professionals can reduce stigma.

The work is far from being done, and the AHA is committed to helping to end this epidemic. Hospitals play several important roles in addressing the opioid crisis, and the AHA will continue to be a partner in this fight.

More information on opioids is available from the AHA.

David Hyman, D.D.S. (dhyman@hymanmamberdental.com), is chair of the American Hospital Association Committee on Governance and a director of Hartford HealthCare in Hartford, Conn.