Samaritan outlines opioid response

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MOSES LAKE — Opioid medications and abuse, and what Samaritan Healthcare is doing to reduce the chances for abuse, was the subject of discussion at the regular hospital district commission meeting Tuesday.

Opioids are effective pain relievers, among the most effective available to doctors, said Andrea Carter, Samaritan’s chief medical officer. But they’re so effective they’re prone to abuse, she said, and the potential for abuse wasn’t really understood until it had grown into a national problem.

According to the Washington Department of Health, in 2016 Grant County had 91.5 opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people, which is above the state average. The state average is about 77 per 1,000 people. State data is broken down by age groups, and in Grant County, people 75 years of age and older were the age group with the highest number of opioid prescriptions.

In answer to a question from commissioner Joe Akers, Carter said the statistics don’t include cancer patients.

Hospitals and health care facilities in north central Washington are working together to address aspects of opioid abuse, Carter said. Samaritan officials chose to focus on opioid education and providing naloxone to individual patients. The kits would be distributed to patients treated for overdoses in the hospital’s emergency room.

An opioid overdose can depress the central nervous system and respiratory systems to the point they shut down completely, and naloxone counteracts that. The hospital received $4,750 to implement the program through a consortium of NCW health care facilities.

“So we’re going to be offering kits to keep them from dying. What are we doing to help them get off the drugs?” Akers asked.

Carter said each medical facility in the community has its own plan, but each is similar.

Tara Zammaron, a nurse practitioner at Samaritan Clinic, said the first step is assessing pain and the need for pain relief, and setting expectations for patients.

Medical facilities and pharmacies work together to keep track of prescriptions, Zammaron said; all pharmacies are supposed to be part of the tracking program, but not all comply. All patients receive education about opioids along with their prescription.

Patients who receive opioids longer than six weeks must sign an agreement, and agree to drug testing. Medical professionals also look for other, non-narcotic ways to help patients cope with pain, Zammaron said.

After 12 weeks, patients are evaluated to see if function has improved. “We like them to have a behavioral health evaluation if (the opioid use) is greater than 12 weeks.” Prescriptions are limited in duration, starting with 28 days. Patients also must get prescription refills in person, Carter said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at

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