Colorado Springs Hospital Takes Lead in Dealing with Nationwide Opioid Epidemic

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Several Colorado hospitals are joining forces to address the problem with prescription painkillers, but a local hospital has been doing it for two years.

Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs changed its pain management protocol after large numbers of patients across the country abused or became addicted to opioid medications.

“The fast and simple way is to write a prescription for a narcotic,” said Dr. George Hertner, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine. “That’s not the right treatment for a lot of patients. There’s acupuncture and other alternatives that are nonaddictive and unlikely to be diverted or misused.”

Dr. George Hertner, chief of emergency medicine at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs.

Hertner said the hospital has reduced the amount of opioid prescriptions by a metric ton.

“We’re talking hundreds and thousands of doses and pills,” he said.

The hospital soon will publish a research paper on its findings so far.

“Some things in life hurt, and we can’t always make the pain go away 100 percent,” Hertner said. “We have to have realistic goals, as well as realistic approaches, to reach those goals.”

Hertner said the new protocol often takes longer but improves communications between patients and doctors.

Last week, eight hospitals — in metro Denver and western Colorado — and three independent emergency rooms enrolled in a six-month pilot study by the Colorado Hospital Association.

“It’s the largest study of its type in the nation,” said Cara Welch, a CHA spokeswoman. “It differs from other studies in that we don’t just tell people not to use opioids. We tell them about other options we have.”

The CHA said Colorado ranks 12th nationally in the rate of prescription abuse or misuse, and that 40 percent of patients will not use the drugs as originally prescribed.

The CHA and Memorial Hospital plan to publish their research and share it with other medical professionals.

“We hope other hospitals eventually will take an opioid safety pledge,” Welch said.

The trend toward better, safer pain management pleases Charlotte Duran of Colorado Springs.

Charlotte Duran of Colorado Springs can relate to having trouble with prescription painkillers.

“When I had my gallbladder removed a few years ago, the painkillers I took made me hallucinate even three weeks after I stopped taking them,” she said. “And I was taking only half of the dose. I’m not going to let that happen again.”

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