Study: Opioid Use Curbed By Colorado Emergency Rooms

Jan 26, 2018

Emergency departments in Colorado have cut back on the use of opioids in a pilot study so successful that it surprised its primary architect.

Ten emergency departments were part of the six-month Opioid Safety Pilot Study overseen by Dr. Donald Stader, associate medical director of Swedish Medical Center’s emergency room in Denver. Opioid usage was reduced by 36 percent. That’s more than double the expectations researchers had set for the study.

The study followed doctors, nurses and pharmacists who gave patients a less-addictive alternative to opioids (also known as ALTO).

“You could see, at a certain point in October, ALTO’s were used more than opioids right. And that’s a revolutionary change. You can’t miss that point,” Stader said. “That’s a revolutionary change in how we’re practicing medicine.”

Opioids include drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine. All have been at the center of what health experts say is a dangerous epidemic that has cost many lives.

Stader said alternatives to opioids are a safer way to treat pain than opioids. They include drugs like lidocaine, ketamine and dicyclomine.

The study found that usage of those drugs went up by 31 percent as 35,000 less doses of opioids were dispensed to patients. The study compared opioid and ALTO emergency department prescriptions from June 1 to Nov. 30, 2017 with the same period from 2016.

“Our ALTO treatments went up and our opioid treatments went down and that makes sense because we’re still treating pain,” Stader said. “We’re still treating pain we’re just treating it better and safer than ever before in these hospitals.”

The participating hospitals represent rural and urban areas and their emergency departments provide acute care, critical access or are freestanding. Over the six-month study, the 10 EDs treated 130,631 patients.