OPIOID CRISIS: As opioid deaths increase in TN, local hospitals search for alternative treatments
While the opioid epidemic continues to sweep the nation, doctors at CHI Memorial Hospital are doing their part to lessen the number of deaths by using alternative treatment methods.
In the mid-'90s opioids were introduced as the answer to treating pain for hospitals and their patients.
"Pharmaceutical companies pushed certain medications for physicians to prescribe, suggesting that they were safe, non-addictive and some of that information may not have been correct," Medical Director Dr. Jeffrey Visser told Channel 3.
Now in 2019, he says Tennesseans are still feeling the painful effects of the epidemic that, according to the CDC, has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the US since 1999.
"In my early career here, I never saw an opioid overdose generally unless it was an accidental (one) by an older adult who got their medicines mixed up or a person with a history. Now we see it on people are really are normal citizens," Visser explained.
New data from the CDC shows opioid-related deaths in the US decreased by 3% from 2018 to 2019.
But Tennessee saw a rise in deaths by nearly 10%.
"We see a lot more severe overdoses--people coming in unconscious, difficulty breathing or not breathing, that have had to be resuscitated by paramedics," he said.
Visser, one of two medical directors at CHI Memorial, says the hospital is one of several across the nation working to lessen the number of deaths pro-actively through a program known as 'ALTO', which stands for 'Alternatives to Opioids'.
"There's a different set of meds we can use that would probably be as effective and not give the risk of addiction."
The program is centered around using non-addictive medications like Tylenol and Advil for conditions with less severe pain.
"There are a lot of mild to moderate pain conditions, sprained ankles, people with pneumonia that have pleurisy that don't necessarily need a narcotic with that."
ALTO also focuses on educating patients who are unaware of other pain prevention options that work just as effectively, according to research.
"There are multiple studies that show that Tylenol and Advil alternating in combination work better for some fracture pain, sometimes kidney stones," Visser continued.
By saying 'no' to narcotics and 'hello' to ALTO, they hope to find a new answer to treating pain but in the meantime, they're working to decrease the number of OD's and deaths in Tennessee.