Sanford Health Cutting Down On Opioid Prescriptions

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Opioid addiction continues to be a crisis nationwide with nearly 100 Americans dying every day from overdoses. Experts say the addiction can begin from being prescribed pain pills after an injury, like a broken bone or pulled muscle. A local health provider is looking to decrease this problem as quickly as it has risen.

When opioids first hit the market, it wasn’t clear how dangerous they can be.

“We were told, and a lot of people felt, that it was just like taking hypertension pills, we can really use these pills freely to treat the pain,” says Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer with Sanford Health, Allison Suttle.

But after discovering the addictive patterns, Sanford Health is doing their part to end the opioid epidemic, prescribing fewer pills.

“They can develop tolerance and need a higher dose, and that’s when, depending on the person, things can snowball,” says Suttle. “Instead of giving out 30 pills per case, let’s give 10. I’d rather get more phone calls and have to prescribe a few more pills for the subset of patients, for those who really need it, than have extra pills out there.”

The decrease is adding up. At the beginning of 2016, Sanford Health prescribed 4.3 million pills in their North Dakota, South Dakota and western Minnesota hospitals. In the third quarter of this year, that number has gone down by more than 1 million to 3.2 million pills, or 24 percent.

“We have providers having better conversations with the patients about using the smallest amount necessary for the fewest amount of days,” explains Suttle. “We base that off of the CDC guidelines and put that right into our electronic record.”

So after a knee surgery, or to treat a migraine, physicians are going back to over the counter drugs.

“We’ll talk to you about taking Advil, Tylenol, Advil, Tylenol kind of alternating those to stay on top of the pain, and only use the pain pills when really needed,” says Suttle.

In order to halt the addiction though, Suttle says patients need to start thinking about pain differently, too.

“Anticipating that you will have some pain after surgery, and that’s okay, that’s the body’s normal response,” explains Suttle. “We’ll minimize that pain so you can function, but we can’t just take it away.”

In Sioux Falls alone, Sanford Health reduced the number of opioid pills from 1.5 million to 1.2 million, or about 19 percent. Fargo saw an even bigger reduction of 33 percent.

Sanford Health is also studying the alternatives to opioids in Carpal Tunnel surgeries, which are the most common procedures in the U.S. The study will evaluate the effectiveness of ibuprofen versus hydrocodone, a pill with high risk for addiction.