A recent PBS NewsHour report from its series, “America Addicted,” highlights the growing opioid epidemic and the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommending doctors avoid or limit prescribing legal painkillers to their patients. The story features a group of Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG) physicians who have seen success in chronic pain patients “stepping down” from high-dose opioids and embracing alternative therapies.
Steven Steinberg, MD, the lead physician for the SCPMG’s controlled substance task force, describes the early days of the program and his shock at the massive numbers of opiate prescriptions and high-quantity refills being distributed to patients. Following this discovery, Kaiser Permanente instituted the Safe and Appropriate Opioid Prescribing Program to help transform the way chronic pain was viewed and treated throughout the organization.
SCPMG Executive Medical Director Ed Ellison, MD, who was also featured in the PBS NewsHour report, says he is thrilled with the program’s impact and describes how it led to an 80 percent drop in the use of OxyContin between 2010 and 2015. In addition, he states that the program has led to a 30 percent reduction in overall opioid prescribing. As an alternative to opioids, physicians in the program may recommend acupuncture, mindfulness sessions, and yoga therapies.