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A PERSPECTIVE: On UH Response to Opioid Addiction


Every 25 minutes a baby is born suffering from opioid addiction.1

2017 UH Annual Report to the Community and Report on Philanthropy


RAndy Jernejcic, MD

In 2016 alone, 116 people died every day in the U.S. from an opioid-related drug overdose.2 The drain on our society continues to climb, with economic costs surpassing $500 billion in 2016.3 Ohio has been hit particularly hard by the epidemic, with an unintentional drug overdose death rate surpassed only by West Virginia.4 Nearly 3,500 Ohioans died from opioidrelated overdoses in 2016, up 35 percent from the prior year.5

These statistics are alarming, but what should hit home the hardest is that the epidemic is everywhere, affecting all ages and all neighborhoods. Addiction is a chronic illness just like diabetes.

According to the Federal Reserve, the opioid crisis has negatively impacted the job market. A growing segment of the population can’t work due to opioid usage or failing drug tests.6 Add to that, thelost productivity in the workforce due to employees worrying about a family member or friend afflicted with the disease.

So what do we do? Much like previous societal threats, such as teen pregnancy, drunk driving and AIDS, we need a cultural shift in how we talk about the issue. Teen pregnancy declined 46 percent;alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are down 27 percent; and the number of annual HIV infections in the U.S. decreased 18 percent.7 If we look at reduction efforts for historical societal burdens as a barometer for success, we need to bring the topic of drugs and addiction to the forefront of our conversations.

Evidence-based education and prevention programs; policy changes aimed at mitigating the problem; multi-component, community-based mobilization efforts; mass media campaigns; and financial resources earmarked for counseling, advocacy and outreach efforts have played meaningful roles in addressing these issues.

UH has taken an aggressive stance to help stem the tide of addiction, save lives and create a healthier Northeast Ohio. In late 2016, UH joined with other area health systems and the Center for Health Affairs to form the Northeast Ohio Hospital Opioid Consortium. This consortium is serving as a model for other cities to replicate.

At UH, we have launched a system-wide response which includes the formation of an Opioid Patient Safety Committee, where senior leaders meet regularly to discuss educational and prescribing goals for all points within the continuum of care. Already we have put more emphasis on alternative treatments to pain management, such as radiofrequency ablation, neuromodulation, acupuncture, physical therapy and music therapy. And soon, via the establishment of the UH Pain Management Institute, we will implement a comprehensive pain management strategy targeting acute pain, chronic pain and addiction treatment. We aren’t preaching a draconian approach. Prescription opioids still serve as an appropriate pain management therapy, but we must be pragmatic.

Mental illness plays a big factor in addiction, yet mental illness remains a taboo topic. We will continue to advocate at the local, state and federal levels to better align policy so that government and commercial insurers provide better coverage for alternative therapies and mental health counseling.

Disease prevention is a shared responsibility. Individuals, families, schools, employers, the healthcare industry and governments all have a vested interest and need to take action. Engage in the conversation with friends and family members. Dialog with your physicians about pain management. Ask questions. Contact your elected officials and advocate for more funding and insurance reimbursement. Ensure any prescription opioids used by your household are disposed of properly.

Join with UH as we take a stand to help eradicate the epidemic in our community.


1 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
2; 2016 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Data Brief No.293, December 2017
3; CEA Report: The underestimated cost of the opioid crisis, 2017
4 CDC Wonder database, 2016 unintentional drug-induced deaths by state
5 Ohio Department of Health; opioid drug overdose deaths includes prescription opioids, fentanyl and heroin
6 Federal Reserve Records of Meeting November 17, 2017 and November 30, 2017.
7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Birth Rates for Females 15-19 years 2007-2015; NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis Fatalities in Alcohol-impaired-driving Crashes 2005-2014; U.S. Statistics Fast Facts 2008-2014.



We invite you to read the full 2017 Annual Report to the Community and Report on Philanthropy.