Colorado physicians cracking down on abuse of painkillers

DENVER Some emergency-room doctors in the Denver area are restricting the types and amounts of addictive painkillers they administer, citing a nationwide increase in overdose deaths.

Denver Healths emergency room will stop filling long-term prescriptions for such painkillers as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin, the Denver Post reported Saturday. The hospital also will try to limit prescriptions for acute-care painkillers to small amounts to last only until patients can contact their regular physicians.

University of Colorado Health is writing policies that would end the practice of filling prescriptions that patients claim were lost or stolen.

Ten years ago, we recognized we were undertreating pain, and now weve probably gone too far in the other direction and need to dial it back a bit, said Dr. Jason Hoppe of the universitys emergency-medicine department. But it took awhile to get here, and it will take some time to get back.

Littleton Adventist Hospital has altered its policy for emergency use of the intravenous drug Dilaudid. Instead of injecting it into a vein in a few seconds with a syringe, it will be administered in a drip for an hour, said Dr. Mark Elliott, the hospitals emergency medical director.

Abusers are less likely to stick around or return for extra drugs because they wont get an immediate high, he said.

Dr. Chris Colwell, director of emergency medicine at Denver Health, said physicians disagree about how tough guidelines should be, but he said the hospitals doctors do agree that patients should be sent back to their long-term doctors for pain management.

One problem hospitals face in reducing prescriptions for painkillers is that many emergency-room patients do not have a long-term doctor to consult.

Nationwide, deaths from painkiller overdoses have tripled since the late 1990s to nearly 15,000 a year. That parallels the growth in prescriptions.

A report released this month by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said Colorado has the second-highest rate of prescription-pill abuse in the nation, at 6 percent of the population.

A National Governors Association task force, of which Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is co-chairman, is expected to make further recommendations.