The Opioid Epidemic

March 9, 2016

Author: Herb B. Kuhn, MHA President and CEO

The population health challenge can push health care executives right up to the end of their comfort zone. Part of the problem is the geography — enhancing population health often requires activities beyond the traditional understanding of hospital care and beyond the four walls of the hospital.

The March edition of Trajectories identifies the state’s opioid epidemic through the lens of population health. The paper explains how the MHA-endorsed resources for emergency department use can act as an opioid abuse mitigation strategy.

It’s impossible to define how many opioid abusers begin with a prescription of their own. However, we know that health care providers have a significant stake in reducing dependence. It won’t be easy, with the ubiquitous nature of these powerful painkillers. Opioids are a dichotomy — an essential tool in the pain management toolkit and as a dangerous narcotic that can lead to powerful street drugs when used inappropriately.

Obviously, implementing the recommended actions in Missouri’s emergency departments won’t halt the opioid epidemic. Nonetheless, action on this issue sends a clear message to our front-line providers, ED patients and state policymakers that we’re serious about doing our part.

In Friday’s Insights column, I addressed the significant progress being made at the county, state and national level. In Missouri, the hospital community has led on this issue, with state-level research, state-level recommendations and self-regulation. Policy on a drug database system is advancing, if imperfectly.

We can make a difference curbing opioid abuse by looking in, rather than out. Better management of opioids will be challenging, but it’s a population health challenge that we can launch on the first floor.