It started with a conversation. It’s no surprise that the ongoing epidemic of opioid addiction is a topic likely to come up when healthcare industry leaders get together. Something different happened, though, after a meeting between Dave Stack, CEO and chairman of Pacira Pharmaceuticals, and Paul Conlon, senior vice president for clinical quality and patient safety at Trinity Health.
They decided to bring their respective organizations together to develop a plan for combatting the national dilemma.
“It started out with a strong cultural alignment and an understanding that there were people who needed surgery who were looking for solutions to the opioid epidemic — patients in recovery, for example, and patients who had previous bad experiences with opioids,” Stack says.
“I think these are important times for the provider community and the medical supply community to start working together to improve care collectively,” adds Conlon. “We may be looking at this problem differently and that creates the opportunity to be creative. That’s what I think is helpful about it. But it’s also about having respect for each other and a degree of confidence in one another. We have that.”
Both healthcare companies are well-positioned to gather information on how the opioid crisis is devastating individuals and communities. Even without that firsthand material, accounts of tragedy triggered by the abundance of painkillers aren’t difficult to come by.
Stack points out that nearly everyone he encounters — from elected officials to personal acquaintances and family members — knows someone who has been touched by misuse of opioids. Since the majority of the individuals caught up in the epidemic had their introduction to opioids through a legal pain pill prescription, an automatic question arises.
“We would routinely be asked, ‘How do you treat these pain scenarios without opioids?’” Stack says. “And our organization has some expertise in developing protocols, ways that you could use a combination of medicines in order to reduce the need for opioids.”
Leadership at Trinity were developing similar solutions. Bringing together their experience as practitioners with the strong capabilities Pacira has for examining data around root causes of addiction made sense to both organizations.
The teams will be identifying the patients at greatest risk of having opioid-based pain management treatment escalate into an addiction and determining how best to reduce that risk. The crux of the effort involves developing and evaluating treatment programs aimed at reducing both patient reliance on opioid use and unnecessary exposure to the opioids, in general. These programs will include education about alternatives to opioids and about appropriate opioid prescribing for physicians. Trinity Health and Pacira Pharmaceuticals will also develop protocols for addressing patient discomfort without a reliance on pain pills.
Those protocols will be shared widely, complete with educational efforts to help healthcare professionals implement them effectively.
With 93 hospitals in 22 states, Trinity Health professionals have extensive experience in bringing new methodologies to practitioners across a wide range of disciplines and who are geographically dispersed.
“One thing that we do pretty well, I think, is create virtual networks of like-interested clinical leaders to design care plans and care programs for specific areas of concerns,” Conlon says. “So we create care optimization teams made up of representatives from all of our acute care organizations and our long-term care and home health agencies. They get together virtually once a month and work through any number of interventions to improve care.”
In addition to educating healthcare professionals, the broader program will take the concept of non-opioid alternatives directly to patients.
“There’s an awful lot of opportunity to educate people in the community — people who are patients today or will be tomorrow — about the dangers of opioids and about the fact that there are alternative ways to treat pain,” offers Conlon.
None of this means that Pacira and Trinity Health are planning to cast opioids as a uniform scourge. Both Conlon and Stack are quick to point out that there are times when a prescription for opioids is the proper treatment.
“Opioids have a place,” says Stack. “There’s no doubt about that. What we’re fighting against here is the indiscriminate use of opioids or the inappropriate use of opioids.”
“We’re trying to be trusted stewards of the resources that we have so we can use them to make communities healthier places,” Conlon explains. “In the communities that we serve, we really believe that we have a responsibility to mitigate against disease, the opioid epidemic, obesity, and tobacco use, among other things. From a health perspective, these are all epidemics that adversely affect the communities we serve.”
That overarching commitment to the public good makes the novel collaboration between Pacira and Trinity Health into a perfectly natural and logical move.
“Together, we can do more than either one of us can do alone,” says Stack.
(Main image credit: AP Photo/Chris Post)