“It’s time for courage and leadership on our part,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, Intermountain President and CEO, addressing Intermountain leaders and physicians about the nation’s—and Utah’s—opioid epidemic. “I’m here to ask you for your full cooperation and your courage in addressing this issue in a very proactive way. We cannot fail to act in view of all the people afflicted by this nationwide epidemic.”

In an unprecedented effort to address the rising number of opioid use disorders and opioid-related deaths in Utah, Dr. Harrison called together Intermountain leaders and physicians to discuss prescribing patterns and improvement goals. Intermountain is one of the first healthcare organizations in the nation to organize what he described as “an urgent call to action.”

In opening the meeting, Dr. Harrison said, “We know that 142 Americans die every day from drug overdoses. Over the course of the Vietnam War, we lost 53,000 Americans. Now we’re losing more than that every year to drug overdoses, including opioid-related deaths.”

In Intermountain’s first Opioid Summit, Clinical Program leaders, pain management specialists, and physician leaders met to learn about the work Intermountain is doing to address the issue—and to discuss ways to “right-size” opioid prescribing within our hospitals and clinics. Dr. Harrison hosted the meeting along with Mikelle Moore, Senior Vice President of Community Health, Kim Henrichsen, Chief Nursing Executive and Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations, and Brent Wallace, MD, Intermountain’s Chief Medical Officer.

What is Intermountain currently doing?

  • The Opioid Community Collaborative—a consortium of community leaders sponsored and funded by Intermountain to help prevent opioid abuse—has been working on the following initiatives:
    • Medication disposal drop boxes.
    • Distribution of naloxone rescue kits. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
    • Increased caregiver training. So far, more than 2,500 Intermountain caregivers have received training on preventing opioid misuse.
    • Supporting the adoption of medication-assisted treatment.
  • Intermountain has also been providing education to patients and providers about effective alternative pain management strategies through pain management classes, videos, and provider training. 

Recent survey interviews with Intermountain surgery patients indicate most patients are using only half of the opioids they’re prescribed, and only a small fraction of patients surveyed are safely disposing of the leftover pills. Last year Intermountain clinicians prescribed 19 million opioid tablets.

“The issues around prescribing are complicated, and many different types of organizations and agencies are trying to address the problem from various perspectives,” said Dr. Harrison. “That said, Intermountain touches nearly half the population of Utah every year. By stepping up our efforts, we can make a major contribution in addressing this problem.”

What is Intermountain planning to do? By the end of 2018, Intermountain’s goal is to reduce the average number of opioid tablets we prescribe (per prescription for acute conditions) by 40 percent.

To achieve the 40 percent reduction, Intermountain plans to expand training to additional caregivers in Utah and Idaho. We’re also adding prompts and default order sets into our electronic health records to remind caregivers of the number of tablets prescribed. Intermountain also plans to expand other services, such as pain management clinics and treatment resources for opioid use disorders, to better help patients with chronic pain conditions and opioid use disorders. More educational services for patients will be offered, and complementary therapies will be available.