There is little doubt that abuse of opioids – often beginning with a necessary prescription – has reached crisis proportions in the U.S. and beyond. That includes right here in our backyards, in the Coachella Valley and the greater Inland Empire.

Based on the most recent data available, as of 2014, there were 6.14 opioid overdose deaths for every 100,000 Riverside County residents. Opioids have also been the cause of numerous visits to county emergency departments and inpatient hospitalizations for overdose.

Taking a public health approach in dealing squarely with the issue

On April 5, the Safe Prescribing Inland Empire Coalition held its inaugural planning session, sponsored by Desert Oasis Healthcare (DOHC) with the aim of meeting the challenge head-on. The group of medical providers, along with representatives of health plans, law enforcement, school districts, and medical centers, established these goals:

  • To reduce the incidence of prescription drug deaths in Riverside and San Bernardino counties by 20% by 2020.
  • To promote the evidence-based prescription of controlled substances in order to reduce overdose and substance use disorders. (Basing decisions on large clinical studies and viewing addiction as a chronic disease)
  • To strengthen community awareness of the role of controlled substances in treatment, as well as side effects and contraindications.

Chief objectives of the coalition are education, training, and communication among health care providers, pharmacists, and others, including those in the criminal justice community who seek to improve law enforcement for the good of the collective public health. The coalition will also address issues like “pill mills” and “doctor shopping” that contribute to the abuse of opioids and other controlled substances, and supports the use of non-pharmacologic modalities in treating chronic pain including acupuncture, yoga, Tai Chi, chiropractic and meditation.

The work that the coalition seeks to do builds on that of the Hospital Association of Southern California and the Riverside and San Bernardino Departments of Public Health.

Attendees of this inaugural meeting heard about the problem of use disorders/addiction and the scope of the opioid problem in Riverside County.

Dr. Kelly Pfieffer from Healthcare Foundation of California described how “safe prescribing coalitions” have addressed the opioid epidemic throughout the state.

Dr. Roneet Lev of the Scripps Emergency Medicine Department illustrated her efforts in Southern California to introduce safe prescribing in emergency medicine in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Pam Allen, RN, related the Inland Empire Safe Opioid Medical Task Force’s adoption of guidelines for safe prescribing in emergency room medicine.

Attendees committed to work with one or more groups dedicated to achieving the coalition’s goals and objectives throughout 2017. The Inland Empire Safe Prescribing Coalition will merge its efforts with those of Inland Empire Safe Opioid Medical Task Force during the coming months.

A community-wide effort, planned for November, will draw together more community segments, including the public, to begin dissemination of safe prescribing guidelines for the Inland Empire. The Coalition hopes to schedule a public health fair, featuring both mental health and substance use resources, so that the public can be screened and receive prevention and treatment information.

For more information on the Safe Prescribing Inland Empire Coalition or to get involved, please contact Dr. Kawika Liu at [email protected] or (760) 320.4122, ext. 1369.

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