Limiting opioids in ERs can leave some sickle cell patients in pain

Amid a national opioid crisis, some hospitals have changed how they administer pain medication, a move some say can leave sickle cell patients suffering, according to NPR

About 100,000 people nationwide suffer from a group of genetic conditions called sickle cell disease. However, the opioid epidemic has prompted some hospitals to modify how opioid pain medications are administered to sickle cell patients with severe pain.

The emergency department at Athens, Ga.-based St. Mary's Hospital, for example, changed its treatment process a few months ago for patients frequently suffering from pain. Previously, physicians gave hydromorphone injections, but now they dilute the shot with an IV drip. 

"It's like you're getting small drips of pain medicine. It's like torture," India Hardy, a sickle cell patient at St. Mary's, told NPR. She filed a complaint with the hospital, but told NPR no changes have been made yet.  

The hospital is trying to balance pain treatment with the risk of opioid addiction, St. Mary's staff told NPR. 

"We have given sickle cell patients a pass [with the notion that] 'They don't get addicted' — which is completely false," said Troy Johnson, MD, an emergency medicine specialist at St. Mary's.  

Other experts questioned the hospital's new policy. It's more common to give patients direct "pushes" of pain medication via injection, not slower IV drips, Biree Andemariam, MD, CMO of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, told NPR. 

National guidelines say physicians should adjust levels of opioids as needed "until pain is under control per patient report," according to NPR. 

More articles on opioids:
Nearly 30 percent of US opioid-poisoning cases occur among children
Treating newborns exposed to opioids cost US hospitals $572M+ in 2016
New National Academies opioid guidelines aim to make prescribing more consistent

More articles on opioids:
Nearly 30 percent of US opioid-poisoning cases occur among children
Treating newborns exposed to opioids cost US hospitals $572M+ in 2016
Verily planning $5M expansion of tech-based opioid treatment initiative

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