Part two: medical professionals weigh in on opioid epidemic

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MAGIC VALLEY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) Dr. Heather Ellsworth became a doctor to help people.

But as a doctor in the emergency department, she has to weigh if some treatments she prescribes are going to help her patient or hurt them.
Namely, prescribing opioid narcotics.

Dr. Ellsworth worked in other places before settling into St. Luke’s Magic Valley, and she saw the opioid problem there, too, no matter where it was.

"It's a national epidemic,” she said, “so it's certainly not anything that's just unique to Magic Valley."

The CDC says 44 people die every day from opioid painkillers, and hospitals around the country, including St. Luke’s, are taking steps to try and cut that back.

One way they do that is only prescribing opioids for acute pain, like from a fracture, as opposed to chronic pain, a policy adopted by most hospitals.

They also look for other methods of pain management, like alternative medicine offered outside the hospital, or prescribing non-opioid pain medicine, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

"There's a whole host of alternatives to narcotic analgesics for treatment and management of pain," Ellsworth said. "I think it's everyone's goal, the patients, the providers, to come up with a plan to manage their pain, and that doesn't necessarily mean an opioid analgesic."

Though sometimes it does, so the next line of defense against addiction and overdose comes from the next medical professional a person might encounter, the pharmacist.

"Physicians actually control the medications, pharmacists oversee it,” said Jerome pharmacist Kim Tillery, “Pharmacists and physicians have a dual responsibility when it comes to narcotic medications."

Pharmacists can help by making sure the patient understands all the risks associated with these drugs, including overdose.

They do this during the consultation, the bit at the end of your pharmacy experience where the pharmacist explains how to take your medicine.

Recently, pharmacists in Idaho have been able to add a step to the consultation on opioid narcotics, thanks to Idaho House Bill 108. It allows pharmacists to write prescriptions for the rescue drug, naloxone, which reverses the effects of a drug overdose.

The pharmacy Tillery works for has eagerly jumped on this opportunity.
"We have started to include naloxone as part of the presentation and the consultation only because there stands a chance to save a life," he said.

Though they haven’t dispensed any yet, they are ready for when they can.

"I personally look at it, and everybody on the staff looks at it, as an opportunity to save a life,” he said. “That's the reason we've chosen to go forward with that, and we've chosen every platform and every dialogue it'll help to get the word out."

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