Dr. Anna Grosz will never forget the relief of a mom who learned her child wouldn’t need pain pills after surgery. “She was a recovering addict, and she was afraid to have them in the house.”
It was a poignant reminder of the impact of the opioid crisis in Oregon, which has one of the highest rates of prescription opioid misuse in the nation.
Kaiser Permanente has the unique ability to mobilize across its integrated workforce to make an impact: from doctors, pharmacists and researchers to surgeons, addiction specialists and even dentists. As Dr. Mailiki Patterson notes, “Many people get their first exposure to opioids through dental procedures. It’s our job to lower that exposure.”
Significantly reducing opioid prescriptions was a key priority that Kaiser Permanente addressed head-on. Equally important was helping patients understand the drugs’ potentially harmful effects and explaining alternatives.
“I sometimes share my own experience, which is that I lost a family member to an accidental overdose,” says Dr. Amy Kerfoot. “I tell my patients, ‘I would never want to do something that would cause you harm.’”
“People need you to embrace them where they are, figure out their challenges and how you can help them,” observes Dr. Grosz. “A lot of that is not about pain medicine at all.”
The women agree it’s critical to address the trauma that can lead to opioid misuse. As Stacey Moret explains, “We can’t underestimate the degree to which issues like food and housing insecurity or childhood abuse factor into how people are able to manage their pain.”
Elizabeth Bentley adds, “The most rewarding thing is hearing patients who’ve stopped taking opioids say, ‘you helped me get my life back.’”
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