Cutting opioid prescriptions given to patients on discharge

08 Nov 2017

When the pharmacy at St Vincent's Hospital alerted pain specialist Dr Jennifer Stevens to the "steep" year-on-year increases in the amount of opioid-based painkillers being prescribed to patients on discharge, she knew something had to change.

To cut the prescription rates, she started holding educational sessions for junior doctors, teaching them about the highly addictive properties of Oxycodone that could ensnare patients into a dangerous cycle of addiction. It failed to make a dent.


She changed strategies, making it personal by showing each doctor the "enormous" difference in the amount they were prescribing compared to their counterpart in the same ward five years prior.

"Instead of saying 'there's a problem', we said, 'this is your problem and I'm going to measure you and watch your performance'," Dr Stevens said.

"Within a month, we saw the number of Oxycodone tablets being dispensed drop by 50 per cent."

The program's results are critical at a time when health authorities worldwide are grappling with soaring rates of opioid addiction and deadly overdoses. In Australia, the majority of opioid overdose deaths are now related to prescription painkillers rather than heroin.

St Vincent's innovative program is likely to have a broader impact because while the bulk of prescriptions are made by GPs, a patient's first exposure to opioids usually occurs in hospital after surgery.

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