Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s emergency department will start a new protocol on April 1 meant to reduce the abuse of prescription pain medications and to also ensure that patients requiring regular pain relief are receiving ongoing care from an appropriate medical professional.
“The abuse of prescription pain drugs is a serious public health problem in the United States,” said Tracy Garcia, Cheyenne Regional’s director of trauma and emergency services. “Prescription pain medicines now account for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined and also outnumber motor vehicle-related deaths,” Garcia said.
Another reason for concern is that Wyoming has the 15th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States, Garcia said. That rate has tripled since 1999. Nationwide, nearly 50 people a day die from overdosing on prescription pain killers.
“Cheyenne Regional’s new pain management protocol is not a new concept,” Garcia said. “Emergency rooms across the nation have implemented similar systems. The bottom line is that too many people are using pain medications without the kind of medical care that’s required to manage their conditions and their prescriptions. Our protocol is being put in place to ensure we are helping people and that we are not creating a bigger problem, such as addiction or the worsening of pre-existing health issues that need to be closely monitored and managed.”
The new protocol will include a system that tracks how often patients in the emergency department have received and been prescribed pain medications. If there is a concern, the emergency department will send a letter to the patient and the patient’s primary care provider.
“We want people to understand we will be tracking and monitoring high-risk medication use, and that we will request patients with frequent and chronic pain conditions consult with an appropriate medical professional such as a primary care doctor to manage their care, including their prescriptions,” Garcia said.
“State law requires that patients tell any practitioner if they have taken, or received, a prescription for a controlled substance from another source within the last 30 days,” Garcia said.
Healthcare laws also allow medical professionals to review a patient’s medical record, contact the patients’ primary care provider and also check the Wyoming pharmacy database that tracks the use of controlled substance prescriptions.
“We are simply putting a formal process behind regulations that are already in place,” Garcia said.
While some may perceive the new protocol as being punitive, it’s meant to help people get the care they need, Garcia said.
“Providing appropriate pain relief is a responsibility our health system and our emergency department take very seriously, as mistakes or misuse of controlled pain medicine can cause serious health problems and, in some cases, death,” Garcia said. “We want our community to know that we are moving forward with a system that will be fair and consistent for all—and that we believe will help people get appropriate medical care for chronic conditions.”
Garcia also wanted to assure the community that anyone coming into the emergency department will receive an appropriate evaluation and will be cared for—and that those who have injuries or require emergency treatment will receive needed pain relief, including the use of prescription pain medications when appropriate.
Posters announcing the new protocol have been placed throughout the emergency department, and physicians in the community have been notified.
“Our goal is to encourage patients with chronic pain to work with their primary care provider for better pain management. This new protocol should help us contribute to the primary care provider’s ability to establish consistent pain management guidelines with their patients,” Garcia said.