Some Fredericksburg Doctors are Cutting Back on Opioid Prescriptions
Fredericksburg's own Dr. Costa Soteropoulos is one local physician cutting back on prescribing painkillers. Over-prescribed opioids have triggered a nationwide epidemic. More than 300,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses since 2000, and as a result, the healthcare industry is taking a closer look at the use of this addictive drug.
Dr. Soteropoulos, who practices in the National Spine & Pain Centers office in Fredericksburg, says that when he treats patients with backaches, spinal cord problems, or other painful issues, he prescribes pain relievers that aren’t habit forming.
As an alternative to medication, Dr. Soteropoulos often uses spinal cord stimulation, an implant that uses a low-voltage electrical current to block the sensation of pain. "Soteropoulos believes such devices, along with other therapies, can replace the need for potent pills with some patients." He estimates that 3 to 10 percent of patients who visit his office “are seeking out pain medicine to sell or abuse in some way, shape or form,” he said. “We’re definitely turning away our fair share of people.”
Local hospitals are also trying to prescribe less narcotics too. “For more than two years, emergency room doctors at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center have counseled patients that opioids aren’t always the right choice," said Dr. Jayson Tappan, medical director of the emergency department. In the past, patients who came to the hospital suffering from pain may have been sent home with a prescription for OxyContin, Vicodin, Percodan, or Percocet, which are all opioids. Now the doctors are cutting back, or not prescribing the opiods at all.
The state guidelines have also become more strict, stating that emergency room doctors shouldn’t replace pain medicine for patients who claim their pills were lost or destroyed. Further, they state that while doctors should be sympathetic to patients who are in acute pain from emergency issues, but not treat chronic or subjective pain. "Doctors also routinely check the database of the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program, which shows what medicines people are prescribed and from where. It also notes if they’ve tried to get painkillers at other hospitals."
Mary Washington Healthcare, which operates Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital, has a “Pain Team” that meets regularly to address opioid issues.
Some of the strategies implemented include:
- Sending patients home with less than a week’s worth of opioids
- Using non-opioids when possible in the emergency department or after colorectal surgeries
- Better assessment of patients’ pain while hospitalized to avoid excessive amounts of opioids
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