A New Jersey hospital emergency department has been treating pain with alternative regimens, in an attempt to reduce opioid use. The treatments include non-narcotic infusions and injections, ultrasound guided nerve blocks, laughing gas, and “energy healing,” according to The New York Times.
St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center’s emergency department in Paterson, New Jersey, is one of the nation’s busiest, treating approximately 170,000 patients a year. Since January, it has been treating patients with common types of acute pain—such as migraines, fractures, kidney stones and sciatica—with alternative treatments.
Almost 75 percent of patients seek emergency treatment because of pain. Emergency department personnel and patients have long thought that opioids are the quickest, most effective response to pain.
“St. Joe’s is on the leading edge,” said Dr. Lewis S. Nelson, a professor of emergency medicine at New York University School of Medicine, a member of a panel that recently recommended opioid prescribing guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But that involved a commitment to changing their entire culture.”
In the first five months of the program, the hospital has been able to reduce opioid use in the emergency department by 38 percent. About 500 acute pain patients have been treated with non-opioid protocols, and about three-quarters of the efforts succeeded.
The remaining 25 percent of patients eventually needed opioids for their pain. Some patients were given a limited prescription for opioids when they were discharged. The staff warns these patients about the risks of the medication, and connects them with hospital physical therapists, pain management specialists, psychiatrists and primary care physicians who have committed to keeping patients off opioids.
Doctors say opioids can’t be replaced by alternative treatment in all cases. They note opioids can provide immediate, effective relief in extreme medical emergencies, such as a bad burn or an acute sickle cell crisis.