PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Physicians Primary Care providers will no longer routinely prescribe opioids to patients who have non-cancer-related chronic pain.
“We’re not going to be prescribing opioid pain medication for chronic pain unless it has become clear there is no other alternative,” said Dr. Joshua Jones, chief physician officer at OMP.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Chris Frank said OMP’s change is in line with national and state guidelines and is part of a community effort to address the opioid epidemic.
“All practices now should be assessing their prescribing practice and making sure they are in line with the evidence-based guidelines,” he said.
Frank said North Olympic Healthcare Network, Jamestown Family Health Clinic, Lower Elwha Health Clinic and the Bogachiel Clinic in Forks have all made efforts to decrease the amount of opioids that are prescribed.
Assistant Medical Director Dr. Michele Stafford said in an email that providers at OMP Primary Care Clinic are concerned with opioid abuse in Clallam County.
“We are keenly aware that many people who abuse opioids are introduced to them directly or indirectly through a healthcare provider,” she said. “Because of our concern, we took a close and extensive look at the data surrounding the current medical indication for opioid therapy.”
She said providers will still prescribe opioids to treat severe acute pain, cancer-related pain and end of life symptoms.
Examples of opioids include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Ultram, morphine, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine, tramadol and heroin.
“We felt we had to do something,” Jones said, adding that all providers at OMP agreed there needed to be a change. “We felt because of the national conversation [about opioids and heroin] it was important to put out a letter.”
Providers sent a letter that most patients would have received May 24, notifying them of the change, he said.
“We change a lot of our guidelines at OMP Primary Care and throughout medicine based on new and emerging data,” he said.
That data, he said, shows that many of the people who are using opioids don’t need opioids to treat their pain.
He said the goal will be to wean most patients without cancer-related chronic pain off opioids.
“We will be working closely with our patients currently taking opioids to make sure their pain is appropriately treated,” the letter says. “We understand this change may be uncomfortable and unwanted, but medical research is very clear regarding the risks and lack of long term benefit of these medications.”
Jones didn’t know how many patients were affected and said OMP’s medical record system makes it difficult to find such data.
OMP is also preparing to build a medicine-assisted treatment program that would be used to help people who are addicted to opioids.
The program, which Jones hopes will be up and running by fall, would provide Suboxone and Vivitrol to patients.
Opioid use disorder, most commonly called addiction, is a medical condition characterized by a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes clinically significant impairment or distress.
Jones said it’s possible some of the affected patients would need that program, though the program isn’t being developed because of the change in prescribing practices.
“We have patients who are opioid or heroin addicted regardless of if they are getting pain medications from us,” he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].