A team from CHI St. Gabriel’s Health, a hospital in Little Falls, Minn., headed to Washington, D.C., in September to report to Congress its progress with a program to reduce the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan invited representatives of St. Gabriel’s Health to talk to lawmakers about the program in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S House of Representatives.
In 2014, the hospital’s doctors and leaders had growing concerns about the high volume of patients arriving in its emergency room who were overdosing or seeking narcotics.
“The No. 1 diagnosis in our ER was people coming for pain or people coming for narcotics,” says Lee Boyles, president of CHI St. Gabriel’s Health. (St. Gabriel’s is part of Colorado-based nonprofit Catholic Health Initiatives.) “We had a significant problem.”
In January 2015, St. Gabriel’s Health received a $368,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health to address the issue. The grant money allowed St. Gabriel’s to assemble a Controlled Substance Care Team and hire a nurse, a pharmacist and a social worker.
First, St. Gabriel’s looked at patients who had eight or more refills in a year for prescription narcotics. For the patients dealing with chronic pain, clinicians at St. Gabriel’s worked to find the root cause of the problem and then address it with other methods, such as alternative pain medications, surgery or therapy.
Since implementing the program, the hospital has been able to taper 324 patients off of opioids, according to Kathy Lange, director of the CHI St. Gabriel’s Health Foundation. That translates into a 23 percent reduction in narcotic prescriptions, which represents 370,000 pills and $2.6 million in hospital billing costs.
“We’ve done this in one of the poorest counties in Minnesota with [few] resources,” says Boyles.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently reported that there were 376 opioid-involved deaths in the state in 2016, a 12 percent increase from 2015. MDH’s tally of opioid-involved deaths include prescription pain pills, heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogs—a drug designed to mimic the effects of the original drug.
“This is a significant problem that is not going to get resolved without dedicated resources and without funding,” says Boyles. “I think we have a very solid program that will help communities. What we have is scalable and will get results.” —Burl Gilyard