Social isolation, lack of access to counseling and treatment and financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased opioid overdoses and deaths across the nation. Kentucky has been at the center of the opioid epidemic and is one of 40 states reporting a spike in recent months according to the American Medical Association.
Stakeholders across the Commonwealth are committed to treatment, recovery and prevention efforts with businesses, healthcare organizations, non-profits, coalitions and individuals collaborating to battle these colliding crises. This was the focus of our second state-focused webinar—The Collision of the Opioid and COVID-19 Public Health Crises: A Kentucky Perspective.
Moderated by Jana Bailey, an advanced practice nurse, certified registered nurse anesthetist and member of the Kentucky Board of Nursing, participants included: Kelly J. Clark, MD, founder of Addiction Crisis Solutions and DisposeRx board member; John M. Edwards, III, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Baptist Health Lexington; Natalie Middaugh, community health program manager for the Kentuckiana Health Collaborative (KHC); Lisa Smith, PharmD, senior director, Clinical Excellence for Walmart Inc.; and Helisha Ward Tuerk, programs coordinator for AmeriCorps Seniors at Morehead State University.
The webinar series can be viewed on demand, and here are a few highlights of the panel discussion.
Value in collaboration
Dr. Kelly Clark emphasized the value of collaboration as we navigate the pandemic and encouraged employers, payers, pharma, legislators, providers and even patients to respond quickly and appropriately. We must all work together to ensure that people who are in treatment continue to receive support and that people can get into treatment once it has been determined that they have a problem.
Employers as agents of change
KHC’s Natalie Middaugh explained that her organization was inspired by a call to action from their employer members. They saw the impact that substance use was having on their organizations and their families. As a result, KHC partnered with the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE) which seeks to expand and sustain a comprehensive, equitable recovery-oriented system of care to end the opioid epidemic in communities across the Commonwealth. As part of this effort, KHC developed an employer toolkit to support employers in better understanding and addressing opioid misuse, opioid use disorders and pain management.
Responsible dispensing, proper disposal and patient education
Walmart’s Lisa Smith offered insight into the pioneering efforts of Walmart’s controlled substance stewardship program which has been operating nationally for several years. Walmart is focused on responsible dispensing, proper disposal, patient education and Naloxone access. The retailer educates and encourages all its patients prescribed an opioid to use the lowest effective dose for the shortest duration. Proper disposal is also a core tenet and Walmart was the first pharmacy to provide DisposeRx at-home medication disposal packets at no cost. With the pandemic, at-home disposal has been growing in popularity.
Focusing on seniors
Helisha Ward Tuerk shared insights around the AmeriCorp Seniors program which taps the skills, talents and experience of Americans age 55 and over to meet a wide range of community challenges, including fighting the opioid epidemic. One of their education initiatives focuses on how to avoid becoming an “accidental dealer,” and part of that is education around opioid prevention and stewardship efforts.
Reducing the number of opioids through education and proper disposal
Baptist Health Lexington’s John Edwards shared details on the development of acute pain management protocols and efforts to manage pain before, during and post-surgery. The challenge is to reduce the number of opioids we see in our communities. Using data to understand the number of pills prescribed, educating on opioid stewardship and the importance of proper disposal are key.
It was clear from the rich discussion that the problems continue to be significant and evolving, but we are encouraged of the work of these various stakeholders. We hope you will listen to our webinar series and join us for the third webinar in January which will focus on West Virginia.