State announces Opioid Alternative pilot project for Emergency Room doctors

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ALBANY — The recently approved 2018-19 state budget includes a $500,000 provision for the creation of the Opioid Alternative Project, a pilot program aimed at reducing opioid usage in New York by encouraging emergency room (ER) doctors to prescribe alternative opioid pain treatments.

According to the state Department of Health, opioid-related deaths in New York rose 71 percent from 2010-2015. In Upstate New York alone, opioid-related deaths increased 23 percent in 2016 with several sub regions of Upstate reporting more than a 50 percent increase.

“Heroin and opioid use has reached epidemic levels in the state of New York. It is a public health crisis and it is important for us to explore all avenues possible in order to reduce addiction and unnecessary death. I’m pleased we were able to secure funding in the 2018-19 budget to support the Opioid Alternative Project,” said state Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, who chairs the Senate Health Committee.

The proposal was drafted by the Iroquois Healthcare Alliance (IHA), a regional trade organization representing 54 hospitals in 32 counties of Upstate New York. IHA will launch and administer the pilot project, which will include participation from its member hospitals and at least five months of ER data collection.

“Emergency rooms are often the first contact patients have with opioid pain killers,” said Gary J. Fitzgerald, oresident of IHA.  “As such, Upstate New York hospitals are in a strong position to reduce opioid use, particularly as their ERs provide care for increasing patient populations vulnerable and at risk for opioid abuse and addiction.”

The IHA pilot mirrors an initiative that took place in Colorado in 2017 in which 10 Colorado hospitals joined forces under the Colorado Opioid Safety Collaborative, aimed at cutting their use of prescription painkillers. Led by the Colorado Hospital Association, the cohort of ten participating sites achieved a 36 percent decrease in opioid administration through the course of the pilot, as well as an increase of 31.4 percent in the administration of alternatives to opioids.

“Emergency departments are on the front line of the opioid crisis,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair, Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan). “This program, based on best practices in Colorado, can be a model for broader training of emergency physicians to utilize opioid alternatives when clinically appropriate.” 

IHA will spend the next several months developing a formal pilot infrastructure.

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