FINDING HOPE: Idaho healthcare providers working together to slow spread of opioids

BOISE, Idaho - Healthcare providers across the Gem State are working together to try to stop the spread of opioid addiction. We are now one year into a five-year statewide Opioid Strategic Plan, aiming - in part - to lower the number of prescription pills circulating in the state.

Part of the plan includes increasing the number of doctors participating in a statewide Prescription Monitoring Program, allowing physicians to see if a patient seeking pain pills has recently filled a prescription somewhere else.

"We've been really concerned because we have seen deaths due to overdose going up every year in Idaho," State Epidemiologist with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Dr. Christine Hahn said. 

Dozens of agencies across Idaho have joined forces outlining long-term goals as part of the strategic plan. Goal number two, simply put, is to improve opioid prescription practices in Idaho.

"Several law changes have gone into place making it easier for doctors to look up patients," Dr. Hahn said. "Every physician, by law, has to register with this. It allows a doctor to see, for example, if a patient's already gone to another doctor, or two or three other doctors, prior to showing up in his office - that way he can check and re-think if he wants to prescribe an opioid for that patient."

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little says, so far, it's working. "We've substantially increased the compliance of our medical community, assuring that when somebody comes in and requests some kind of pain medicine that it's legitimate that they aren't just shopping from doctor to doctor," Little said.

"From that database, we can see that prescribing is going down, the number of people doctor-shopping appears to be decreasing," Dr. Hahn said.

The Board of Pharmacy has also improved practices recently, flagging patients portraying characteristics of opioid abuse.

"And they're notifying doctors that, 'Hey, you wrote a prescription for this patient, it looks like they might be doctor-shopping, so they're trying really hard to reduce that," Dr. Hahn said.The database also allows doctors to see what other non-opioid medications a patient may already be taking.

"Not only for possible side effects, if there are two drugs that might conflict with each other, but also to make sure that they're not accidentally overprescribing for somebody or that the patient isn't intentionally misusing and trying to go in to get extra prescriptions to be sold later or to be misused in some way," Dr. Hahn said.

Another significant change which has improved database use so far is the ability of staff other than the physician to input prescription information directly into a patient's electronic medical chart. The database is also used by pharmacists in the state, giving them the ability to see if patient prescribed an opioid has recently filled prescriptions at another business.

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