CEO Healthcare Column

CEO Mary Ellen Pratt is extremely knowledgeable about the issues facing healthcare today. Visit this page monthly to keep up with her popular healthcare column which is featured in local newspapers. 


A Serious Public Health Concern  
Drug abuse is a serious public health problem that affects almost every community and family in some way.  Drug overdose deaths continue to increase in the United States and more than 60 percent of these deaths involve an opioid (pain pill). When we think of drug abuse, many times we think of illegal drugs but much of the time drug addiction starts with a prescription. Over 40 people die every day for overdoses involving prescription opioids.  

The Prescription Problem 
The misuse and abuse of prescription medications remains high in the United States. Louisiana has the 6th highest opioid pain reliever-prescribing rate in the country, according to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics' (analysis of a year-long period through June 30, 2016). The analysis found that in Louisiana there were 102.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people, when the national average was 69.5 prescriptions for every 100 people during that same period. 

In addition, from 2014 to 2015, opioid overdoses increased by 12 percent in the state, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. The state's drug overdose rate also outpaces the national average, fueled by both the rise in prescription opioid abuse and the use of illicit opioids, like heroin, and synthetic black-market opioids, like fentanyl. In 2015, The CDC reported that Louisiana had the 19th highest age-adjusted opioid overdose rate.

Preventative Actions 
Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue, but preventive actions, treatment for addiction, and proper response to overdoses can help.  Preventive actions such as protocols for prescribing pain medication and monitoring utilization have been successful in keeping prescription drugs out of the wrong hands.  This month, Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law a slate of bills to combat the state's opioid addiction crisis, to limit prescriptions and to prevent the practice of "doctor shopping." 

State Laws Address Opioid Epidemic 
The first law implements a seven-day limit on first-time prescriptions of opioids for acute pain. If pain persists, patients will have to return to their doctor to get their prescription refilled.  The law does not apply to prescriptions for chronic pain, cancer or palliative care, and it offers some exemptions when alternatives aren't available.  The reason this is important is that many times people don’t use all of their pain medications and they can end up eventually falling into the wrong hands.  

The second law strengthens the state's Prescription Monitoring Program, which is a database for doctors and pharmacists. The law will require prescribers to check the system before prescribing an opioid to a patient and check it every 90 days, to reduce doctor shopping by patients who seek out multiple prescriptions.  

Lastly, the third law creates a 13-member advisory council on heroin and opioid prevention and education to develop policy recommendations to combat opioid abuse.  As a result of these new laws, you may notice your doctor prescribing fewer pain pills and making sure you don’t already have an active prescription elsewhere.  

At St. James Parish Hospital we are working with our physicians to set guidelines for prescribing pain medication in order to limit oversupply. We are committed to doing our part to keep our community both healthy and safe.