Peter J. Holden, the chief executive officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth shocked many in attendance at the Massachusetts Hospital Association’s annual confab this year. The norm at these discussions is to talk about government regulations or low insurance payments. That was not what Holden wanted to discuss. He made it clear that he has major concerns about the opiate epidemic that is taking place in this country.
Holden’s term has been extended and he will serve as board chairman of the hospital association until next June. He made it clear that he believes the epidemic demands attention by all health care professionals. He wants hospitals to lessen their contribution to the problem by staying vigilant with their prescribing practices and to not over-prescribe opiate based narcotics. It has been widely proven that many addictions to prescription painkillers started with a legit prescription from a doctor. Many times the medication should not have been prescribed for the ailment in the first place. Opiates originally were for chronic pain such as cancer or terminal illnesses, but in the mid 90's the trend started to switch to anyone with an ache or pain leading which lead to an increase in prescriptions.
Holden’s town of Plymouth has been hit extremely hard by the opiate epidemic. He says that his hospital is taking the necessary steps to curb the abuse and to educate before it becomes a problem. They are also working on creating new ways to expand the treatment available at the hospital.
“The health care industry in Massachusetts is part of the problem,” says Holden. “We write too many prescriptions for pain, and the size of those prescriptions is oftentimes too large. I’ve never been in a town or a city or major metropolitan area in my career,” Holden said, “where it’s been such an obvious problem.”
Giving this problem the attention it deserves can have lasting effects for years to come. It is normal for doctor’s to prescribe prescription painkillers for someone in pain. The problem is that it's extremely hard to gauge someone’s pain and to tell if a narcotic painkiller is actually necessary. Treating pain is not black and white, it very much is a large grey area. How does the doctor know if the patient has a very low pain threshold? Doctors have to use their best judgment to treat the person to the best of their ability.
Our society has changed in the way it views pain since the mid 1990’s. It used to be very hard to get a prescription for painkillers before that time. You generally needed to be in a horrible accident or have pain linked to cancer. One did not get prescribed opiates for back pain in that time. We saw much less addiction to opiates but our society believes that no one should be in pain in this day and age with all the technology we have. This way of thinking has been a direct fuel for the opiate epidemic. Patients expect to be prescribed something when they go see their doctor. If they do not leave the office with a new prescription, they feel as though they wasted their money. This way of thinking needs to drastically change.