Pennsylvania Implements New Guidelines for Treating Pain in the Emergency Department

The guidelines were developed as part of a multi-part plan to curb misuse, abuse, and diversion of opioid medication by preventing opioid medications from being inappropriately prescribed in the emergency department, and by reducing the overuse of emergency departments for pain relief.

Treating patients who are suffering from with chronic pain condition while also monitoring them for potential prescription opioid misuse and abuse is a complex undertaking that is even more difficult in the emergency setting.

To address the issue of opioid abuse and misuse among patients who are seeking treatment in the emergency department, the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and the Department of Health (DOH) announced the launch of an initiative in partnership with the Pennsylvania Medical Society to develop new guidelines for treating patients and monitoring signs of potential abuse.

A news release from the office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said the guidelines were developed “as part of his plan to reduce prescription drug abuse and overdoses in Pennsylvania.” Corbett had directed DDAP and DOH to establish the Safe and Effective Prescribing Practices and Pain Management Task Force to “work toward safer prescribing practices in the state.”

“The task force is doing a tremendous job identifying solutions to combat the escalating prescription opioid abuse epidemic in Pennsylvania,” noted DDAP Secretary Gary Tennis. “These guidelines will cut down on the number of prescription drugs inappropriately being prescribed to individuals and will reduce over-utilization of emergency rooms for pain relief.”

Physician General Carrie DeLeone, MD, added, “Education and action among the emergency health community and the residents of Pennsylvania is a key component to addressing opioid problems.”

According to information posted on the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s website, there are several guidelines that medical facilities can follow to ensure patient safety to the best of their ability.

One of those guidelines stipulates that clinicians should prescribe only enough of a medication to last the patient until he or she has a follow-up appointment. The guidelines suggest no more than a 7-day supply of pain medication be given at a time. When writing prescriptions for opioids, doctors are encouraged to give the “lowest potency opioid necessary to relieve the patient’s pain.”

Also, a controlled substances database is being developed to serve medical professionals across the state which will help agencies share information about the topic.

The task force included not only health care professionals but also professional associations and regulatory agencies in the state.

“These guidelines are the next steps in fighting prescription drug abuse in Pennsylvania. Let’s not stop there,” said Ted Christopher, MD, a member of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Philadelphia County Medical Society. “More work can be done and needs to be done in our battle against misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.”