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Drugs & the ER: March 7, 2012

At a news conference last month, Lee Memorial Health System levied a voluntary crackdown on addictive pain medications covering their four hospital emergency departments.

“The emergency rooms have become the last vestige for those patients who went to the pill mills to get their medications. They know they can go into an emergency room, fake their illness and get a prescription,” says Dr. Larry Hobbs, an emergency physician on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Primary offenders are the opiates, common as street drugs.

“Opiates are synthetic derivatives of opium. Percocets, oxycodone, oxycontin, vicodin, percodan, hydracodone and codeine,” says Dr. Arron Wohl, an emergency physician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Dr. Wohl is an ER doctor on the front line of the drug battle.

“My experience is it’s one to two patients a shift out of 20 to 25 patients an evening, have some degree of an issue with opioid dependence or opioid use,” says Dr. Wohl.

The health system drew up eight guidelines to help doctors cut back prescribing addictive pain meds.

Guidelines include accessing a patient’s prescription drug history through the state drug-monitoring database, requiring valid ID and not replacing stolen or lost medication.

It’s important to note that doctors are still committed to helping and healing and will prescribe appropriate drugs as needed.

“As physicians we always had a dual obligation to alleviate pain and suffering but limit societal harm from those powerful drugs,” says Dr. Wohl.

So instead of contributing to a community problem, the health system is contributing to a community solution.