Like many hospitals across the country, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Laramie County, Wyoming, was seeing the effects of the nationwide opioid crisis – and had to change its approach after the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse.
In the fall of 2020, CRMC’s population health division launched a three-month campaign that covered multiple topics dealing with opioid use disorder: how to get help, how to talk to providers about alternatives to opioids and the importance of stigma reduction.
“Opioid addiction is a medical disorder, not a character flaw,” said Angela Vaughn, CRMC’s community health project manager. “As a first step, it’s important to educate and encourage people to consider alternatives to opioid use for pain management. But if someone has become addicted, they need to know where to turn for help.”
The campaign, which was funded by a 2018 State Opioid Response Grant, also focused on educating the public about the symptoms of opioid addiction, helping someone who has overdosed and stigma reduction. Information was posted on the CRMC website, and wallet-sized cards showing how to help someone experiencing an overdose and listing available local resources.
As the pandemic wore on, opioid and other substance abuse disorders were climbing everywhere, including Wyoming. CRMC responded by launching a class on pain management and addiction specifically targeting first responders. The “Alternative to Opioids” class teaches EMTs, emergency room staff and other first responders about non-opioid pain relief. It can take as few as five days for a person to become addicted to opioids; by teaching first responders to use alternative responses to pain, some opioid use disorders may be stopped before they begin. Within the first month of the program, CRMC cut its emergency room opioid use by 10%.
With education, science-based treatment plans and innovative thinking, CRMC is taking steps to combat the opioid epidemic in the surrounding region – steps that could benefit hospitals across the country.
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