AHA Priorities to Address the Opioid Crisis

Every day, hospitals witness the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic on the patients, families, and communities we serve. Prescription opioids can be a safe and necessary element of pain management for those who have experienced trauma or are suffering from cancer, sickle cell disease or other diseases that cause debilitating pain. On the other hand, opioids carry significant risk for misuse, addiction, overdose and death, and must be used judiciously.

To prevent addiction and misuse, hospitals and health systems are working to reduce patients’ exposure to opioids by making other types of pain control more readily available. They are implementing standard, evidence-based protocols for prescribing limited amounts of opioids to patients, and they are safeguarding prescription drugs from diversion. Our members are using state prescription drug monitoring programs and working to link them to their electronic health records to ensure that a seamless and accurate flow of information regarding the patient’s prescriptions is available. When patients are diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD), hospitals are offering treatment or referrals, as appropriate, and integrating physical and behavioral health care. They are training first responders to use naloxone and, in some cases, equipping them with this overdose antidote.

However, hospitals are aware that this epidemic cannot be successfully dealt with by health care providers working independently. They are collaborating with their communities to create coordinated responses. They are forming partnerships with other health care providers, state and local departments of health, law enforcement, schools, community organizations and others. Through these collaborations, we have seen hospitals engage recovery specialists to help patients admitted for drug overdose enter treatment, expand SUD treatment services, join with law enforcement to facilitate access to treatment, fund public education programs, educate community clinicians about prescribing practices, and more. But much remains to be done.

The AHA recommends Congress and the Administration take the steps outlined in the document below to help stem the tide of the opioid epidemic.