Colorado Hospitals Reduce Use of Prescription Opioids in Emergency Department Experiment

Ten emergency departments in Colorado volunteered to participate in a Colorado Hospital Association project to reduce the use of opioids over a six-month period in 2017. Data collected upon completion of the project showed a 36 percent reduction in opioid use, far exceeding the project goal of a 15 percent reduction. All ten hospital emergency departments posted opioid prescription rates beat the 15 percent reduction goal.

The CHA project included the development of new guidelines for opioid prescribing and treatment, including using alternatives to opioids for the treatment of pain. In fact, while the prescription of opioids decreased during the study, the use of alternatives increased. The CHA provided extensive education offerings to the project emergency departments and their staff. The reductions in opioid use and increase use of alternatives held for all six major pain categories studied: kidney stones, back pain, headaches/migraines, arm and leg fractures and dislocations, abdominal pain and cancer pain.

The report on the CHA project concludes:

The Colorado Opioid Safety Pilot was successful at demonstrating the feasibility and effectiveness of using an ALTO [Alternatives to Opioids] approach as a first-line treatment for opioids for acute pain in the ED. A statewide dissemination of the ALTO approach in Colorado EDs is one specific intervention to Colorado’s opioid crisis that should be supported and implemented as quickly as possible.

The project findings were reported at a January meeting hosted by the Colorado Hospital Association and the state’s Office of Behavioral Health attended by over 350 people. Speaker bios and presentations are available here.

The study is attracting national media attention. Read or listen to a NPR story here. A March Chicago Tribune story is linked here.

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