How New Jersey's busiest ED slashed opioid prescriptions by 58%

Paterson, N.J.-based St. Joseph's Health System, which runs the state's busiest emergency department, achieved a 58 percent decline in opioid prescriptions within a year of implementing an opioid reduction program, according to a report from NPR.

The health system launched its Alternatives to Opiates program at Paterson-based St. Joseph's University Medical Center in January 2016. At the time, the program represented the first of its kind in the nation, according to St. Joseph's. The program relies on alternative pain treatments such as lidocaine patches, numbing agents injected into nerves and nonopioid pain medicine like acetaminophen to address lingering pain.

"There is a complete change in philosophy, a complete change in culture in the department," Mark Rosenberg, DO, emergency medicine chair at St. Joseph's and one of the architects behind the program, told NPR. Dr. Rosenberg said physicians from other hospitals in nearby areas have asked him why drug users from his area are coming to their EDs. Dr. Rosenberg told NPR he tells these physicians it's "because they're not going to get opioids at our emergency department unless they're absolutely needed."

The program has encountered some difficulties with regards to cost, forcing providers to work with pharmacists to find more affordable alternative nonopioid treatments.  

"The insurance companies don't embrace all the alternative treatments and instead would rather frequently have us prescribe opioids because they tend to be inexpensive and readily available," Dr. Rosenberg told NPR.

Still, the success of the program has spurred other health systems, such as Aurora, Colo.-based UCHealth, to launch opioid reduction programs modeled after St. Joseph's in their own EDs, according to NPR.

More articles on opioids: 
Independence Blue Cross removes cost sharing from naloxone treatment 
Kentucky AG files third opioid epidemic lawsuit 
Highmark declares 'war on opioids': 3 things to know

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