REPORT: One community wages war against opioids … and wins


In response to an increasing number of overdose deaths and children using drugs in their community, medical professionals at Minnesota hospital Winona Health faced the problem head-on and have had tremendous success with their methods.

“One of the very first things I brought to the table was the need to get some control over narcotics,” said Dr. Allen Beguin.

His staff took note of patients’ habits and learned that “there were several patients who were refilling their pain medications two or three weeks early every single month,” Beguin recalled. “That means in the course of a year they had they acquired almost six months’ worth of medication above and beyond what they should have used.”

With those extra drugs being pumped into the community and, ultimately, the schools, Beguin’s staff took two steps to provide stronger monitoring of patients who were prescribed opioid:

  • They stopped letting people refill opioid prescriptions over-the-phone opioid refills.
  • They required patients receiving opioid prescriptions to see a doctor face-to-face every three months.

In efforts to address the use of Opioids, a team of Winona Health primary care providers and clinical staff developed a new process for treating pain. They opened up a dedicated pain management clinic aimed at helping patients find the safest, most effective treatment options to lessen their pain. Now, all hospital primary care staff are required to rotate through the CMC for professional education on painkiller potency and alternative pain management options.

If it’s determined that opioids are the best course of treatment, the medical professionals will use prescribing guidelines to give the patient the lowest effective dose that treats pain and carries the least risk for addiction.

The clinic educates patients about the addictive risks associated with opioids and provides information along with alternative pain management options including cognitive, physical and behavioral therapy as well as other alternatives, such as mindfulness.

Since the clinic’s launch, Winona Health has experienced a 25 percent drop in the number of opioid prescriptions issued and a 30 percent drop in the average dosage patients receive.

“Twenty-five percent of the supply is gone, so that’s a 25 percent reduction in the amount of opioids that are available to the middle and high school population,”  Beguin pointed out.

In 2015 alone, 216 Minnesotans died as a result of opioid overdoses, and many more experienced addictions to narcotic pain medications.

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