Boots on the ground for the opioid task force

It’s a “public health emergency,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. “Unprecedented” is how the Health Resources & Service Administration describes it. Indeed, the numbers are sobering. Overdose deaths involving opioids—both prescription and illegal—increased fivefold between 1999 and 2016. More than 42,000 deaths occurred in 2016 alone, more than any previous year on record. Every day, on average, 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose.

pill sorting at pharmacy

For the past two years, Penn Medicine’s opioid task force—a multidisciplinary team from throughout the Health System—has been putting strategies in place to fight this epidemic on many fronts. From right-sizing opioid prescriptions and encouraging alternative approaches to managing pain, to helping those already addicted, the efforts are making a difference. Since 2017, the number of prescribed opioid tablets throughout the Health System has decreased 16.5 percent—the equivalent of nearly two million tablets.

One study examined the use of opioids for cesarean sections and discovered that “in many cases we were overprescribing—sometimes fairly dramatically—the number of opioids for this procedure,” said Michael Ashburn, of Anesthesiology and Critical Care.

To reverse this trend, the opioid task force has collaborated with several clinical departments to help them create care pathways on Penn Chart (the Health System’s electronic medical record system) that follow “best practices” for specific procedures, including knee arthroscopy, joint replacement, and even spine surgery. The pathways—which are evidence-based bundles of care for providers to follow—support the use of innovative anesthesia techniques, including regional anesthesia whenever possible.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.